Today, the United States of America is well-known for being the melting pot of the world. According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), the U.S. welcomes nearly 900,000 international students per year. These students contribute over $24 billion in the U.S. economy. This means that international students can be found from east to west within the country. Nonetheless, while studying in America might seem to be exciting, there are several challenges that international students should be aware of before starting their college lives.
On Fall of 2011, I was blessed to start my college life in Lindenwood University with a scholarship to study three majors: Economics, Public Administration, and Political Science & Government. As an international student from Honduras, I told myself, “This is the opportunity I have been waiting for. This is the chance to live the ‘dream’.” Perhaps the combination of emotions and a young age at the time, 18 years old to be precise, kept me from asking the tough questions:
“Will I experience culture shock?”
“Will I be homesick?”
“Will I face economic hardships?”
“Will I be able to work while studying in the U.S.?”
“Will I be able to find H1B sponsorship after graduation?”
These and many more questions were answered throughout my college life, for the more time I spent in the U.S., the more I realized the limitations I had.For this reason, I have decided to share some of the challenges I faced during the past four years of college:
1. Culture Shock
Culture shock is real. The minute you step down from a plane into a country different than yours, you are more than likely to feel unfamiliar. Lisa Espineli Chinn, the Director for InterVarsity‘s International Student ministry, said, “There is culture shock when we leave what we know for what we do not know, but also, there is culture shock when we return to our home country, for things have changed and you have changed as well.”
Truth is that there is no such thing as a, “How To Prevent Culture Shock Manual.” However, I have found that the best way to cope with culture shock is through being open-minded. You are not the only one in the world and neither is your country. Keep in mind there are 196 different nations around the globe.
For this reason, get involved with your college campus and its community by being a part of organizations like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship or International Students, Inc. These organizations will not only enhance your perceptions about America, but also about the world.
2. Economic Hardship
Two years ago, Carlos, an international student from Venezuela, was accepted in an American college. Carlos decided to study Interactive Media and Web Design. Every time Carlos wanted to spend money, he could. Carlos was living the ‘college life.’ Two years later, however, Carlos beloved Venezuela experienced its worse economic downturn. After Nicolas Maduro became Venezuela’s new president, the country gain 300% inflation, high unemployment, and supply shortages. This meant that Venezuelans could not purchase any goods or services due to the rising prices, lack of job opportunities, and grocery stock-outs. Indeed, the unthinkable happened.
If there is one thing that is uncertain, that might be your country’s economy. Today, more than ever, the world has turned to be a highly competitive market. Countries around the globe are striving to promote entrepreneurship, foreign-direct investment, and the like to become more competitive in order to sustain its people inside and out of their border lines. You might be thinking, “It’s ok. My family will always support me,” or, “Well, as long as I return to my home county to work during the summer, I will be just fine.” If this is your mentality, you better start thinking things twice.
Try to prevent what can be prevented and ask tons of questions. My advise to you is to ask your college’s international office for information on economic hardship solutions. Carlos did ask and thanks to his questions, he is still able to study in the U.S.
3. Working While Studying
Typically, when international students come to the U.S., they usually think they can labor while studying. Nonetheless, this assumption has proven to be wrong. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states that, “F-1 VISA holders, or students, may not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions.” There are various programs available for international students to seek either part-time or full-time employment, especially after their first academic year. In fact, international students may engage in three types of off-campus employment:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)
Disregarding how tempting it might seem, do not put your F-1 Visa at risk. Avoid working illegally, and above all, avoid facilitating your Social Security Number (SSN) to anyone. Instead, try different innovative alternatives that might put some cash in your pocket in a safe and secure way. Be creative and use your talents to provide services like domestic labor, private music lessons or language lessons (Spanish, in my case).
4. H1B Sponsorship
If you are a recent college graduate, like me, we are both aware of our short time frame in the United States. After graduation, international students start their OPT. The OPT is a 12-month work permit extended to internationals by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, after completion of a 4-year educational program within the U.S.
Once internationals start their OPT, they must look for jobs in their areas of study in order to get sponsored with an H1B. According to workpermit.com, “The US H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields such as in architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, and medicine.” An H1B allows U.S. companies to employ a foreign worker for up to six years.
As we know, it is extremely difficult to find a job in a specific area of study because of two main reasons. First, over 80% of college students end up in fields other than the ones they study. According to an article in The Washington Post, “Only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major.” This is due to many different factors within the economy. However, one of them could be that a high percent of students major in popular fields, like business administration and international business. Unfortunately, only after graduation they realize the supply for jobs within their field of study is not enough to balance out the demand of job seekers in that particular field.
Secondly, time turns out to be your worst enemy. As a matter of fact, one year is not enough to find a job in a specific field of study. For example, if we take under consideration Pennsylvanian Career Link‘s statement about employment, we will find out that the average job seeker gets a job in about 9 months. Additionally, even if an international were to get a job in less than 9 months, corporate America takes around 6 months to a year of training. Chances are American companies would not sponsor you because you have not produced for the company yet. For this reason, try to move into a metropolitan area after graduation, for urban locations tend to hold global headquarters in need of international professionals.
I do not write this to discourage you. Instead, I am writing this to inform you that the ‘American Dream’ requires a lot of effort and I wish I would have found an informational guide before initiating my quest into the land of ‘opportunities.’ Now, take note and make the most out of your academic and professional experience in the U.S.
Hopefully, you will find this article to be helpful in your future endeavors. Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Do not fail to prepare for your future quest into an American college campus. Instead, prepare to succeed and take every precaution into account.