For the fourth consecutive year, the number of international students enrolled in US colleges has declined.
While the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies have withheld, and continue to withhold many student visas, economic factors—including the rising cost of tuition, housing, and travel—have made studies in the US increasingly unaffordable for international students. Moreover, academic and/or professional endeavors remain difficult for international students post-graduation, as many face challenges in securing an internship or job, often due to their “legal” status.
My name is Roy Ricaldi and I am an international student from Lima, Peru. This year, I will be a senior at the University of Kansas, majoring in Data Analytics and Management. As a University Honors student, I very much value my presence and involvement on KU’s campus, as well as my academic progress and achievement. So far, my experience has been quite a ride, complete with ups, downs, and infinite personal growth and intellectual development. When I am not in class or at the library, I devote most of my time to my research or my independent projects. I am very fortunate to have a job on campus related to my major, where I continue to gain valuable experience and skills. However, despite my academic and professional efforts, commitments, and achievements, I have yet to be seriously considered a candidate by recruiters.
Unfortunately, I find networking at career fairs to be especially anxiety-provoking, for a great, stimulating, and constructive conversation with a recruiter can quickly deteriorate the moment I disclose that I am not a US citizen. Too often, companies refuse to sponsor international students, fearing their sponsorship will cost them more money, or that the international student will return home. Sometimes, a company will deny an international student recruitment simply because they do not entirely understand how the sponsorship process works. In my experience, only one out of every thirty recruiters would continue the conversation after they knew I was an international student, and none would encourage me to apply. In fact, most would tell me not to, at all. Of course, this negatively affected my confidence and motivation, and for a long time, I was frustrated. That is until I realized it was not my fault. I am skilled, enthusiastic, and qualified—it was my “legal” status that kept recruiters from giving me a chance.
Here is why companies should think twice before ruling out international students:
We, as international students, have an enhanced ability to work on a team:
We are excellent in respecting and working effectively in organizations with habits and values different from our own, and we can thrive in different cultural settings. In college, we build relationships with our classmates while being the outsiders; we learn to use the apps and technology domestic students use to communicate; we follow the different work ethic they have to complete projects; we lead associations.
The interpersonal skills we develop from meeting new people:
From the moment we arrive, we have an open personality and tact. We are forced to, given that we do not know anyone going into college, and are often far from our family and friends. The ability to remain comfortable while meeting new people in a new country and under any circumstance, remains. Additionally, many of us coexist with roommates with very different customs, norms, and ideas of what it means to be polite and respectful.
Our flexibility and adaptability are unmatched:
We face change by applying familiar concepts to new situations, as we have done it at least a hundred times while studying in the US. We have evaluated and incorporated traditions and customs from our host country to our own lives, and we will continue to do so at work. We have achieved high academic standards in subjects and content taught in another language, through a different system, becoming more tolerant and resilient along the way.
Not having a support system reinforces our organizational and strategic planning skills:
We are often assigned mandatory classes to improve our English skills, which inevitably contributes to a heavier and more intensive course load than the average student. Personally, I have never once taken fewer than 18 credit hours a semester. The extra work teaches us to manage our time, for time is money. We learned to prioritize expenses and plan our weeks around tight budgets. Money is not acquired as easily in a lot of countries outside the US, and wiring it is not always available. Yet, we somehow manage to make it work.
We are risk-takers and have a strong initiative:
We flew thousands of miles away from home to a foreign country and stayed. In a different culture, everything is new and the new is often scary. Every international student has had the willingness of daring to do things for the first time, ponder those decisions, measure their consequences, and carry them out. And that is the difference between a leader and a follower.
Last but not least, we have developed outstanding creativity and conflict resolution skills:
Living far from home does not always bring positive experiences. Ultimately, it is not about who faced the greatest amount of hardships, but who solved them when they arrived. Since we have no option but to deal with the variety of problems that come up, we use it as a learning experience.
All international students have experienced discrimination of some sort, because of our culture, race, or national heritage. It is disappointing that we continue to be discriminated against in the hiring and talent acquisition process. I urge companies and their recruiters to reflect on the way they treat international students. A conclusion that can be drawn is that, it is outdated organizations and policies, systemically rooted in racism and xenophobia, that largely contributed to the decline of international student enrollment in the US.
By Roy Ricaldi