Every year six out of 10 US universities are ranked as the best academic institutions in the world, making the US one of the most popular destinations for people looking to study abroad. But it’s not only about the best ranking.
“It’s once in a lifetime experience, I guess,” said a college sophomore from Vietnam majoring in education. She didn’t plan to study in the US, but she really wanted to travel and a change in environment. She says she has made a lot of friends, and really enjoys living and studying here.
At public academic institutions, such as Hunter College, there is little community for such students, and not a lot of people on campus know about the experiences and struggles they face.
As with the Vietnamese student, who wishes to remain anonymous, the hunger for travel and different type of experience were reasons enough for me to apply to colleges here. The application process was very time consuming. I had to take the SAT and TOEFL for language proficiency, collect recommendations from my high school teachers, and wait for responses from colleges.
The application process wasn’t too hard because I was applying to public institutions (private colleges and universities required additional testing and interviewing). I got a letter of acceptance three months before moving to the States, and the only thing left was getting an international student visa, which basically meant bringing all the documents to the embassy proving that I actually applied for college and showing that I can afford living abroad on my own.
The first month was overwhelming. The only fact that I was capable of making my own schedule was shocking, because back home even in the university me and the group of students with the same focus got a semester schedule from the Dean’s office. Here, seeing new and random people in classes was so cool and confusing at the same time. I think that this type of structure is remarkable, because everyone has a chance to meet different people with different mindsets, which can help expand dimensions to your own perspective and outlook.
Indeed, the chance of studying here really expanded my perspective. The classes in the States are diversified, and a lot people have their own unique mindset. In classes back home it always felt like you are supposed to believe in one thing and see everything from a particular point of view. Otherwise, you would fail for not thinking the way a professor wants you to think.
“I also wanted to move here, because I wanted to learn other people’s perspectives,” said the Vietnamese student. “I was majoring in political science before moving here, and it felt like I was learning it only from one perspective but I wanted to learn about it from all possible point of views.” She added how studying here will benefit her life in the future.
Foreign students are submerged in a completely different environment from what they’re used to. They are forced to form new social networks, and in turn they diversify college campuses. American students learn more about foreign countries and cultures, and they get a broader experience of life by learning alongside students from every corner of the globe.
However, moving to another country, even with a student visa, is becoming more and more challenging. Since the events of September 11, 2001, the international student visa process has changed and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has created more restrictions for applicants. Many students have been denied the opportunity or been put through more complex processes than before.
Because one of the hijackers involved with the 9/11 terrorist attacks was granted access to the US through a student visa, it has become increasingly difficult for international students to obtain student visas to the US. After 9/11 a lot of international Muslim students were discriminated against while applying or passing the border. The situation got worse in 2013 after the Boston Marathon bombing, when two terrorists who lived in the US on international student visas committed a terrorist act.
Even now, half of Republicans, including Donald Trump, think that there should be a database for the Muslim population because of Syrian refugees who were granted a shelter in the country. “I didn’t suggest a database, a reporter did. We must defeat Islamic terrorism and have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America,”tweeted Trump. The tension is coming back with the same intensity as after 9/11 towards the Muslim population. However, considering students, I think that just because some of them believe in Islam, or come from Islamic countries doesn’t mean they should have less opportunity to study here than students from other countries do.
But even those students, who are lucky to be selected, face challenges and inequality, whether it is finding international student aid, dealing with cultural differences, or finding a solution to an academic problem. However, the structure of the US education system makes it much harder for international students to apply and enroll in local universities in colleges than it is for US citizens.
Not only does it require more testing, such as language proficiency tests, but it’s also more financially demanding. For instance, international students have to pay out-of-state tuition, which is three times as expensive as tuition for in-state students. Unlike in-state students, who often pay a partially subsidized lower rate at public schools, or even out-of-state students who often qualify for financial aid, many international students pay the full cost of their education. At Hunter College, an international undergraduate has to pay $560 per credit, while for residents the cost is just $275.
You may ask, why don’t they work at least part-time job to make it easier? The problem is that international students with F-1 visa are not allowed to work off campus, and they have limited work options on campus, allowed to work no more than 20 hours per week. The only time they are allowed to work full-time is during breaks. Among the jobs on campus, some are only available to students of federal work-study programs.
There is a possibility of finding a scholarship or a grant for international students, but public schools don’t offer as many as private institutions do. On Hunter’s website there are around 20 links for scholarships, loans, and grants for foreign students, whereas for all other students there are more than 50 private and governmental scholarships and grants available on the website. Still, it’s better than nothing.
After graduating from colleges or universities, international students are allowed to work in the US one year. The cost of employing an international student is typically higher than that of hiring an American student. Nevertheless, some companies are friendlier for international employees. If a student does already have an internship lined up during their sophomore or junior year, it can be a great way to get their foot in the door.
“I’m going to start applying for different internships during my junior year, and, hopefully, I’ll get hired after,” said the Vietnamese student with less enthusiasm than before. “I really would like to stay here. But if I don’t, I won’t have any other choice but to move back to Vietnam.”