Saxa Politica: Checking the Privilege of International Students

November 2, 2015

When I tell other people that I am an international student, what vague group are others unconsciously associating me with? Do I join the ranks of the few foreign celebrities here in there in the undergraduate population, from the handsome Crown Prince of Jordan to the charming Korean pop star Roy Kim? Or do I join the groups of students who get to go on leisure trips to Europe for spring break and party at clubs in downtown D.C. every weekend?

In this day and age where the discourse in higher education has focused on how universities can allow students from all socioeconomic backgrounds to thrive, many incorrectly assume that international students fall on the higher end of the privilege spectrum. For example, I am acutely aware that my parents are shouldering the entire cost of my Georgetown education without receiving any financial aid. And while some people may spend the upcoming Thanksgiving break on campus, I know that I have a plane ticket waiting for me to go home to Hong Kong every winter break.

It is painful to talk about money at college with your peers, and even more so as an international student. To have my parents shoulder the very high cost of my undergraduate education is not at all a privilege; it is a burden and a responsibility that I am failing to take. I worry that the money my parents are spending on my education is at the expense of my brother’s. I desire to be financially independent, to apply for a paid on-campus job, to earn a wage to pay for my own groceries and phone bills, to hustle my way to my future. After all, not all international students come from families who can connect their children to cushy investment banking jobs, have royal blood, or moonlight as pop stars. I certainly am not one of them: both my parents were the first to get bachelor’s degrees in their families and grew up in government-subsidized housing before they could work their way up to the middle class.

I feel as if I am, in essence, simply here to give Georgetown money. The Office of Student Financial Services does not list any merit-based scholarships for non-U.S. citizens to apply to. The aid that is available is for refugees or students “from war-torn areas of the world with demonstrated financial need—and they certainly deserve all the help they should get. So, even though I want to take as much responsibility as I can to independently finance my own existence in the United States, I simply can’t.

Moreover, based on my own experience, international students face plenty of other restrictions, simply because of the type of passport we hold or the visa restrictions that we must follow to avoid getting deported. If I want to have an internship, unpaid or paid, over the summer, I would have to enroll in an internship course and be billed for the one credit hour on top of registering my employment with the Department of Homeland Security. I tend to ignore the otherwise very helpful emails from the Office of Fellowships, Awards, and Resources because the very first requirement of most of the opportunities and study abroad grants they promote is a citizenship requirement.

There is also little point in trying to score a full-time job at the career fairs that the Career Center holds in the Leavey Hotel, because I know the chances that any potential employer would want to sponsor my temporary employment visa is virtually nil. The Career Center invites a company called Passport Career to provide presentations to international students. I sat in on one this January, and I didn’t find it very helpful: the presenter spent much of her time emphasizing the importance of English proficiency, as if Georgetown’s international students didn’t have any, and explained how we could get a job at the UN by directly emailing an employee with our resumes.

Of course, one would argue that as a part of a group who generally does not pay taxes, I should not be entitled to scholarships and grants that receive money from the federal government, nor should my student visa entitle me to an American job. We only make up a fraction of the general student population, so it makes sense that many of the opportunities that they broadcast aren’t targeted at us.

I only wish, however, that the university could give those international students who aren’t celebrities or from royalty that little bit more help with their money and their futures. The Office of Global Services should be more than a place where international students can work out their visa problems. Instead of telling us on a sad-looking tab on its website that in order to stay in the U.S. after graduation, we “should be applying to 30-40 jobs at once, not just 3-4,” perhaps it could help build a worldwide alumni network based on all the data they have on international graduate and undergraduate students. The Career Center could also do its part by holding information sessions for overseas opportunities, something that would benefit both international students who can better know what they are able to pursue when they return home and American students who want to pursue a career abroad.

My decision to come to Georgetown was not a light one, and my citizenship status should not limit the scholarship and career opportunities that I want to access. Until that day comes, I will continue to see myself as a second-class student, here to give my school all my parent’s money while missing out on many of the rewards it could provide me.


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