International Students: Overcoming Obstacles in Pursuit of Education

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Daiki Yoshioka
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Last year, I moved from Japan to the United States to pursue a liberal arts education, which is uncommon in back home. Here I have an unlimited exposure to the English speaking environment which I have craved. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, of the 17 million undergraduates enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, 7% are international students and their numbers are growing. But not everyone recognizes the struggles they go through in pursuit of their education, particularly limited financial resources and language barriers.

Facing financial obstacles

Although a few students come to the United States with enough financial assets, many come with marginal assets or even student loans. International students have severely limited work options. They are basically not allowed to work off-campus for the first year. Then they can try to get a position off-campus directly related to their area of study so long as they gain approval for it through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. International students are also ineligible for most types of financial aid and cannot file FASFA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). For some colleges, international students cannot even apply for merit-based scholarships. 

Struggling with language and culture

Language barriers are another challenge international students face. This really depends on where students are originally from. I still have difficulty catching up with English daily conversation. In a survey I conducted of international students, 54% of 33 respondents answered that engaging in daily conversation is more difficult than reading textbooks in English.

Recognizing cultural differences can be difficult for international students.  I frequently have been marooned in the conversation especially when someone tells a joke or when a debate heats up. Because of this, sometimes international students end up clustering with other students from the same background. While it may provide comfort, too much cohesion often reduces exposure to the English speaking environment and essentially defeats the purpose of studying in the United States.

Between limited work resources and barriers between languages and cultures – being an international student is very challenging! But the educational opportunities make it a worthy goal to pursue.

What do you think? How do you suggest dealing with these problems? Comment below and let’s collaborate as a student community!

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