To travel across the world for their education, Judah Christian School’s three new students — Lydia Tian, Linda Zhang, and Lucas Zhao — needed to obtain a visa. This is no simple task, and they had to do it on their own. Kim Miller, Judah’s guidance counselor and international student advisor, stayed involved the whole time, yet she was unable to offer hands-on help from afar.
But how do student visas work? What did these students have to go through?
Before the students could even talk about getting a visa, they needed to enroll at the school. To do this, they had to go through the same placement tests as other students. Additionally, as international students, they needed to show their birth certificates, passports, and proof of residence (who they would live with once they arrived). Mrs. Miller recounted some other things they had to provide, saying, “We asked for all kinds of references and recommendations. Next, we asked for their records, from whatever school they had been attending. They also had to take an English language proficiency exam, so that we would know how well they speak, understand, and write in English.” After all this had been completed, Judah decided to offer admission.
The ball then moved to one of the five US consulates in China. Two of the students, Lydia and Lucas, acquired a traveler’s visa to travel to the United States and visit Judah with their guardian. Their initial application to Judah was nearly turned down because they were past the deadline for international students. But after hearing their story, Mrs. Miller felt they deserved a chance. The final piece of the puzzle was a student visa that they could get only in their home country.
So, Lydia and Lucas traveled back to China, alone, to get their student visas.
Because of health regulations, each student was required to be quarantined in separate hotel rooms for eight days. After the period of isolation, they had to go to the US consulate in Guangzhou. They scheduled a time for an interview with a government official and waited until their appointment. During their stay in Guangzhou, they had no adults with them, and though they were in their own country, they were still more than 800 miles away from their families.
Finally, after the interview, they received information on their visas. Although the students had answered with the same true story, Lydia was approved, but Lucas was denied. For him, the process had to begin all over again. Mrs. Miller said, “I wrote a letter saying, ‘We have offered him admission. He’s gone through all of the testing, and we think he would be a great addition to our school. We are willing to accept him after the start date.’” Then Lucas had another interview and got approved for his visa. After that, Lydia and Lucas traveled back to the United States.
For Linda Zhang, the process was similar, but her request for enrollment was made at an even later date. Mrs. Miller took this as a sign that she was serious in her desire to attend. Linda had not previously visited the school, which meant that this was a leap of faith for her. The proper paperwork was sent to her over email, with interviews completed by Zoom. Judah offered her admission, and soon after, Linda obtained a visa to study in the United States at Judah.
Mrs. Miller had much to say on the impact the students’ story had on her and how she’s able to see the privilege Americans have. “It made me realize how much we take for granted,” she said. “It made me realize that people in other parts of the world live very different lives than we do and that we have a lot to be thankful for.” Mrs. Miller’s final remark on the students’ coming to Judah was, “It’s been an honor to be involved in this process with them.”
Lydia, Linda, and Lucas traveled nearly eight thousand miles from their hometown of Kunming to Champaign, Illinois. Lydia and Lucas traveled nearly sixteen thousand miles more back and forth to get their student visas. Their remarkable bravery and uncommon dedication shined throughout their journey to Judah and now inspires many of the students and staff here to renew their commitment to the academic and spiritual mission of Judah Christian School.
— Hannah Jackson, class of '24