International Student

4 Fears International Students Have

Anyone who is able to attain an education in the U.S. is fortunate.

This includes international students.

Despite our fortune, there are some difficult transitions we have to make.

We are tasked to adjust to a new culture instantly while being hundreds of miles away from home and the comfort of our families’ embrace. We’re afraid we don’t catch up with the slang, and often feel that we are alone in our quest in a new country despite the big dreams we have.

While international students may sometimes be looked at as spoiled kids who spend lavishly on materialistic things while slacking off school, that is often not the case. Some of us are middle class; some of us are very wealthy; some of us are only here with the support of scholarships. And some of us coming from developing countries look at our stay here as a one-way ticket and opportunity to make it.

During my four years in the U.S., I have yet to find a united online community that voices that concerns of international students. Perhaps this is due to my lack of awareness, or it is simply because we do not speak up enough.

In an effort to provide perspective, I thought I would talk about some of the fears I noticed that me and my international friends have.

1. Not fitting in.

This is likely a universal feeling that many of us feel at some point in our lives. However, for international students, we worry that we don’t fit in with the mainstream. We speak differently, practice different customs, and are in the middle of the immigration debate. We are privileged enough to be studying here, but do not feel prioritized when it comes to the topic of immigration.

Whenever I am asked what my background is, I often have given one-liners to avoid diving into the long explanation of my status in the states.

“So, where are you from?”
“How do you get to work here?”
“Is your family wealthy?”

While I had felt pressured to “fit in” and disregard the international student community, I have found that it is a community that shares the fears and ambitions that I have as well.

2. Being away from family.

This is the toughest part. At least for me.

Each year, I had found myself feeling more lonesome with the advent of the holiday season. It was another reminder that I did not have a home or family here. Another day of seeing my family through a screen.

Even after living here for a few years, many of us still feel the intense desire to be with our families – especially during hard times. A few ways I used to cope with this was to always call home and catch up with my family whenever I had the chance. I would also try to keep myself busy with work or friends.

On the bright side, this is probably what has helped many of us grow the most. We learn to grow independent while focusing on our personal goals and ambitions. We learn to really cherish the important things in life. For me, that will always be family.

3. Not getting a job/internship.

While in school, international students are allowed to exercise Curricular Practical Training (CPT) to work outside of campus and receive compensation. This is for a maximum of 20 hours per week while school is in session, and up to 40 hours during summer/winter break.

When you graduate however, you have 3 months to look for a full-time job and exercise your Optional Practical Training (OPT) or else you will have to leave the country. For STEM majors, you may renew your OPT for up to 3 years. For the rest, we have only 1 year after graduation. Many who are in OPT are working with companies in hopes of being sponsored for an H1B work visa. This is a very difficult and tedious process that requires immense patience and luck.

Many of us feel pressure to have to work while we are in school to get ahead of the game, in hopes of gaining opportunities to extend our stay after graduation.

Six month after graduation, I find myself to be among the few fortunate who are still working and living in the U.S. I have seen friends move back home, often with their dreams as well.

The pressure to find work can be exhausting, but it is worth trying your very best until the end.

4. Going back home.

There is irony in the fact that many of us wish to visit our families at home, but don’t wish to return permanently.

I feel that this is due to the abundance of opportunities and freedom that we experience in the states. There is an entrepreneurial spirit in the country that makes me feel that anything is possible.

A big fear that many of us have is that we return back to our home country experiencing reverse culture shock. After years of studying and getting acclimated to society here, it is difficult having to go back to our home countries when much of our professional experiences have been in the states. This also includes readjusting to the things we have enjoyed here, like enjoying public parks, having an abundance of entertainment destinations, and the straight-forwardness of the people.

When you experience the best that this country has to offer, it is hard to go back to anything less.

All in all, while international students are very fortunate, I hope that we get to speak up about the difficulties we face as foreigners.

It is a hopeful time as we look to the new year ahead.


Marjon is the Creator of Third-Culture Thoughts. A political nerd and basketball enthusiast at heart, he writes about everything related to culture and the international experience.