The cultural, financial divide of studying in the United States
The American dream is an all too familiar concept. From its definition as the ideal suburban lifestyle to its deconstruction as a fallacious beacon of hope, this notion has evolved to mean different things to different people. Today, the American dream is still very much alive and endearing for many international students, but it can come at a cost — sometimes quite literally.
Sergey Lyubyatinskiy, a fourth-year economics major, is an international student from Russia. Lyubyatinskiy pays for his tuition by wiring money across the seas — a process that can be quite cumbersome.
“In short, it’s very expensive,” Lyubyatinskiy said. “In Russia from this year on, they charge you 1 percent for a wire transfer. When transferring a good amount of money, 1 percent becomes a substantial amount. I take my debit card, go to a bank and withdraw money; the maximum amount of money you can withdraw at once is $800, [and] usually Bank of America only lets you withdraw three times. So after that, you just go from one ATM to another, or you spread it into a month, withdrawing like once a day.”
In addition to these monetary inconveniences, Lyubyatinskiy experienced a culture shock to which other international students can relate. He had to grapple with the transition from being surrounded by fellow Russians to not interacting with anyone with a similar background.
“Because I want to learn English, I tried to sort of guard myself away from [other Russians],” Lyubyatinskiy said. “From a learning perspective, it was definitely a good thing. You get rid of accent and everything […] but sometimes you just miss your culture. I just sometimes want to speak Russian to someone. Locals don’t really understand sayings that international [students] may have.”
This estrangement from a familiar culture, in addition to the financial burden of attending school out of one’s home country, can cause some international students immense stress. Lyubyatinskiy’s feelings of frustration in terms of financing a college education also resonate with Shambhavi Gupta, an international student from India.
“The tough part comes after you get in,” said Gupta, a first-year economics and international relations double major. “You have to check if you have a medical insurance that matches with the college or not, and you don’t want to miss any deadlines or fees. I don’t get why international students — or for that matter any out-of-state students — have to pay so much tuition. We still have to buy books. We still have to pay for everything else. Then what are we paying extra tuition fees, $60,000 a year, for?”
Gupta also found it stressful to convert the cost of an item between dollars and Indian currency. With the current exchange rate of 1 dollar to 64 rupees in mind, Gupta feels guilty and stressed when she thinks about her living expenses here in terms of rupees.
“If you’re buying anything and you start converting, it’s going to mess you up,” Gupta said.
Regardless of the financial hoops they are forced to jump through, there are still many international students who continue to value studying at an American institution for a wide variety of reasons. These incentives range from economic opportunity in America to escaping government oppression in their native countries.
Cunqiu Shao, a first-year psychology major, is an international student from China. She believes that America has served as her escape from China’s administration. She has found that people in China considered “beautiful” often have easier avenues to making money, whereas earning money through merit, such as academic pursuit, is a much more difficult endeavor.
“If you are beautiful [in China] you can make money very easily,” Shao said. “Using the Weibo app you just need to show the audience what you do everyday and the audience will send you gifts, and the gifts mean money.”
According to Shao, depending on where one lives in China, their potential economic growth is almost predetermined. With the same amount of hard work, someone in the bigger cities such as Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong can rapidly make progress, whereas someone in other smaller areas will not be able to see such success.
“I live in a not very big city in China,” Shao said. “It’s near Shanghai, but the price of a house [is worth more] in Shanghai. My mom thinks she did pretty hard work but she doesn’t gain the money she wants to. She thinks it’s unfair, [and that] I need to come to America.”
The Chinese government has a very tight grip on its people, closely monitoring their actions and controlling what media and news outlets say. This makes transferring money for student tuitions all the more difficult.
“The Chinese government asks people not to transfer lots of money from yen to dollars, because they think the economy of China is not very good,” Shao said. “The government doesn’t want us to take our money to America. My mother needs to change money from yen to dollars to give me the tuition, but the bank thinks it’s a large number of dollars, so they will doubt the use of this money.”
There is a cap on the amount of money one can exchange or transfer, an amount that is insufficient for student expenses. In order to pay for her tuition, Shao’s mother, father and grandparents all pitch in to transfer enough money.
In addition to all these stresses international students deal with, the Trump administration has created further anxiety in some.
“Trump will decrease the number of H1B’s — it’s like the F1 Visa, so lots of international students, especially from China, cannot immigrate to America” Shao said. “The [Chinese international students] here are confused and worried. If Trump stays president, I think the number of opportunities will decrease for international students.”
Written by: Sahiti Vemula — firstname.lastname@example.org