Opinion Graphic fall 2020

International students have it exponentially harder than domestic citizen students, despite the positive interaction and outcome people receive from getting involved with their college’s international community. 

Around 1.1 million international students were enrolled in U.S universities in 2019 and 2020 alone, according to migrationpolicy.org. In 2021 alone, international students contributed $28.4 billion to the U.S. economy and created 306,308 jobs, according to Boundless research.

A study conducted by Duke University researchers who interviewed alumni years after their graduations found that students who interact with international students showed signs of intellectual growth, leadership skills, more appreciation of arts and literature, speaking or reading in foreign languages and expanding their worldviews.

I recently became friends with a UA junior from Turkey, Fatma Zeynep Coskun, at the beginning of October who talked with me about her experience as an international student. That is when she told me how expensive her schooling is — around $1,000 per credit hour compared to only around $250 per credit hour for domestic students, according to the UARK catalog. She also must complete 12 credit hours a semester in order to maintain her visa.

In addition to these financial disparities, she explained further, international students with student visas and no green card, a common occurrence, are not able to get a job unless it is on campus and under 15 hours a week on a minimum salary, which is not anywhere near a liveable wage, she said. With a student visa, she cannot get a driver’s license or a credit card. After college graduation, those on the visa are expected to get a job in 60 days in spite of these restrictions.

“You must be exceptional at school or have a rich family,” Coskun said. “You must also be accepted in society at the same time.”

Scholarship opportunities are also slim and extremely competitive. Standardized testing can be harder for international students whose first language is not English, Coskun said. Even so, ACT and SAT scores are often required for these scholarships as well as a certain minimum GPA, another thing that is affected by transferring schools and is different within school systems of the U.S. and other countries.

Financial aid is limited for international students as well and, similar to scholarships for them, is primarily merit-based, according to NAFSA.org.

However, compared to Coskun’s freshman year in Kyrgyzstan and sophomore year at Kansas City Community College, the UofA is by far her favorite because it offers international students health insurance within its tuition and comprehensive English courses for those who are not proficient in the language.

“This university feels more real to me than the others,” Coskun said. “It is much nicer and I feel more like myself as a student.”

Though it seems the UofA is trying to make international students’ experiences better, the overall experience for international students can potentially be very stressful because of the strict rules they must adhere to that domestic students do not. Coskun does not wish to speak on behalf of every international student, but her experience seems to be a part of a general theme across the country, she said.

A problem that Coskun and I did not get to discuss was admission rates with international students being lower and more competitive. While there are quotas that universities must meet when it comes to their international student populations, many schools have international admissions rates under half of the overall admissions rates, according to migrationpolicy.org. For Ivy League schools specifically, the rate is 10% or lower, which means they are up against the same number of people for a spot at the school but with significantly fewer chances, according to Powerful Prep.

Language barriers can also be very difficult for some international students to overcome. There are many academic differences such as the formatting of tests and teaching methods between the U.S. and the rest of the world that could make it increasingly harder. The combination of language and academic struggles can make it difficult to assimilate within the classroom and with fellow peers, sometimes leading to social isolation.

It can also be worsened by stereotyping and discrimination from said peers, on top of financial and academic stress, according to Wooster. Instances of “culture shock,” a feeling of disorientation from experiencing unfamiliar customs, culture, or ways of life, can also be quite common and distressing, according to the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds.

Because of the isolation they feel, reaching out for help can sometimes feel out of the question and impossible.

U.S. policies are primarily to blame for restrictive academic and financial pressures that have been placed on international students. That is largely due to former President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration guidelines. His presidency caused major financial losses because of stricter school and student regulations that have led to less diverse student populations and less international travel in general, according to the study “The Trump Effect” by Nicole L. Hacker at Central Michigan University.

Student visas shrunk during Trump’s term by 42%, and despite him no longer being president, the damage he has caused has proved to be still within our country’s infrastructure to this day, according to AP News

All of these separate factors can cause a lot of anxiety and emotional pressure within the international student population, but we need international students.

It is important to meet people of many different cultures and ways of life to challenge your beliefs and help domestic citizen students become more open-minded and learn new perspectives. I encourage everyone to treat international students with respect and to confront their own internalized assumptions.

I hope the UofA continues to offer resources for our international student population to help them acclimate to university life and give them everything they need to succeed that their domestic citizen counterparts get without question.

“Other students need to know how we international students are doing here and that we are not living the same life,” Coskun said. “It is more challenging for us to have a true college experience.”

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