Every student has a story. For international students coming to the United States for their education means crossing oceans, cultural boundaries and, in rare cases, having to tackle the challenge of communication with their peers and professors.
According to the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit, international students account for nearly four percent of the overall student population. In 2013, 819,644 international students were enrolled in American universities, this being the highest increase in four years.
As universities try to grow their student bases by sending agents across the world, the lure of an American education has only grown by leaps and bounds. Yet why is it that parents are willing to send their children across the world to pay exponentially higher tuition bills when, in most cases there are universities in most cases that would suit their needs?
For Akshit Garg, a senior and Business Administration major and citizen of India, the experience of being abroad is the reason. “Kids want to explore more opportunities in other countries,” he said.
The transition was smoother than other students might expect. Having attended the Punjab Public School in India, students were instructed to speak only in English, so the boundary of language wasn’t a big hurdle. “After the first year, there wasn’t much of a difference,” Garg said.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges to overcome. Sometimes for international students, it’s the simple things American students take for granted that can become everyday hurdles.
Going to the Registry of Motor Vehicles was an issue for Garg. “I went to the RMV. The guy wouldn’t give me a license because of my visa. They were asking me too many questions,” he said.
Yet for Garg there is something in the cultural makeup of American society that is very attractive. He commented on what he observed as a special kind of work ethic. “That’s what I like about U.S. culture; you have to work hard,” he said.
One can easily wonder about the expectations of international students from their parents. With a family business waiting for him back in India, he stressed that, in the end, his parents want him to be happy. With this in mind, he is unsure whether or not he will be returning to India but wants to take advantage of the study abroad experience he was fortunate enough to undertake.
Some international students have altogether different experiences. Saad Altaf, a medical engineering and computer science double-major and sophomore from Pakistan, the American cultural landscape leaves something to desire.
“Americans live to work, whereas back home we work to live,” Altaf said. Back in his home country, according to Altaf, “Work is a tool to get what you need.
Having come from Pakistan in the fall of 2012, the paranoia as a result of the Boston Marathon Bombings still hung in the air. “I came in the wrong time in Boston,” Altaf said.
Before coming to UMass Lowell, Altaf had a scholarship to study at New York University in New York City. While riding a bus heading to a school tour, he was pulled off and subjected to investigation because he was not a citizen. Carrying the I-94 form that certifies his legal entrance into the United States is something that he must think about.
Though Altaf observed that diversity has been an issue, he said, “This year is the first I’ve seen [UMass Lowell] grow in diversity.
Being a follower of Islam, Altaf found an inviting landscape, attending the weekly Friday prayer sessions with the Muslim Student Association. “That hasn’t been a problem at all,” he said.
In the end, Altaf knows he will return to Pakistan. For him, the education he is able to obtain in the United States will allow him to make a difference in his home country. “Our country is in a bit of a turmoil,” he said.