Imagine yourself in one of the following situations: you are on a quest to find employment, but 90% of workplaces close their doors to you. You can study and enjoy your academic life, but the tuition and textbook costs are approximately three times greater than that of a citizen. In other words, you feel comfortable with your life, but uncomfortable at the same time. Sounds odd right?
Well, welcome to the life of an international F-1 student.
Let me take you to July 30, 2016, the day I arrived in the United States from my native country of Peru, with a luggage full of clothes, personal belongings and dreams. I cannot recall a day where I felt so optimistic, so hungry to accomplish my objectives, and so happy that a six-month sabbatical period finally gave its fruits.
My path to success started at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland. There, I met wonderful people whom I still speak with now. Most importantly, MC showed me the challenges I would face while studying in the US. Without a doubt, my journey in college was a roller-coaster: I felt optimistic and disoriented throughout the whole process. But all the effort I put into school was worth the big prize, the opportunity my family and I strived for: The University of Maryland.
What surprised me the most was the fact that international students comprise 23% of the student body at UMD. That felt like a small percentage for the 40 thousand students admitted yearly. Enrolling in the Maryland schooling system felt like an accomplishment to me. I was also amazed at the number of students in the hallways, lecture rooms, dining halls, and other facilities.
The campus size was enormous, and I became more excited than ever when I attended my first class. In some classes, I was the only non-American student among Marylanders, Virginians, Southerners, and other out-of-state undergraduates. For some reason, I loved when my professors and classmates asked me questions such as “where are you from?” and “how do you like it here?” Even nowadays, I still hear these questions.
The college-university transition presents a challenging time.
Through my experiences, I confirm this cliché. Now, I start to see things from a different perspective. I realize the sacrifice my family made, spending so much money for me to get to UMD. I feel pressured to find employment to make a living and help them cover a portion of the costs.
I was horrified when I looked at the tuition costs and what that implied. I am still disturbed when I receive University bills, reminding me how much I need to pay. Yes, the cost proves totally worth it, for I have worked so hard to be where I am right now. However, it feels frustrating knowing you cannot do something to prevent money vaporizing in front of you.
I am upset when I go to the University Career Fairs and fail to find a job while looking at employers’ perplexed faces when telling them about my status. I feel frustrated doing weeks and weeks of paperwork just for employment.
I feel tired coming home from campus every week and talking with my family about just one thing at dinner: money.
It is so infuriating to be eligible for dozens of scholarships and get a pile of recognitions, but more than half of those scholarships are closed for me.
It feels so irritating to have the thought of a “plan B” swimming in my head every day if everything I accomplish fails. For example, what would happen if I cannot cover University costs? Or what do I do if I do not find employment?
However, thanks to the F-1 visa it was possible to follow my dream of studying in the United States. Thanks to the F-1 visa, I met wonderful people, became the student I am now and discovered skills I did not know I possessed before, such as the ability to learn other languages.
So, overall, I feel a love-hate relationship towards my current student status. I feel like having an F-1 visa is like being a doorkeeper: if you have certain keys, only certain doors will be available for you.