CHALLENGES ENCOUNTERED BY F-1 STUDENTS & SOME REMINDERS FOR GRADUATING CBE INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
It is not easy being an F-1 student. The process of learning and adapting to a different culture might be somewhat difficult and can take a lot of time. And throughout this process, there are a lot of challenges at the social level as well as at the academic and professional level.
The social challenges might include, for example, understanding American football or American jokes. An F-1 student might not get the American sense of humor at first and it can lead to some misunderstandings. Learning and adapting to the culture is a life test that some might pass by the time they return to their home countries and others might fail. All of this depends on their different personalities and abilities.
At the academic level, F-1 students have language barriers and a set of various rules they must follow to legally stay in the U.S. The language barriers can also be a challenge for socialization, but it is even worse when it comes to taking notes at a fast pace in a language one might have studied for just one year. Some might have difficulties with pronunciation, causing them to barely speak in class. Just imagine if participation points make a big difference in one’s final grade in the class; what will happen to that student? He or she will have to work twice as much as his/her classmates to get a decent grade. An F-1 student must be full-time student unless he/she has a valid excuse for taking less than 12 credits for undergraduates and less than 9 credits for graduate students. Let’s imagine that an F-1 student was able to register for only four classes, but by the last day to drop, she realizes that he/she will not be successful in that class or class section; what will be done? Nothing. They cannot drop that class because it will jeopardize their F-1 status. The solution might be to register for five classes each semester and then drop the one that needs to be dropped. With that same example of registering for 12 credits, the F-1 student must not receive a FX grade; if they do, they will be in trouble. And like every other undergraduate students on campus, they must maintain at least a 2.00 GPA. Some make it a personal goal to get a GPA that is higher than that; and those who do not set that goal should strive for a GPA better than 2.00, because it is one of the things that might set them apart from other international students when applying for a job.
It is important to emphasize that the main reason international students come to the U.S. or go to any foreign country is to learn. However, some might actually come with the intention of getting a sponsorship following graduation for some additional work experience before they return home. Towson University has a lot of resources available to students for professional development. However, not all the students receive the same benefit from it. And here is why: Most of the hiring positions on campus require federal work study and F-1 students do not have that, making the positions with no such requirements a bee’s nest. What about looking for a job off campus? Few companies hire international students off campus. Not only that, but the job has to be related to their field of study (for paid or unpaid positions) and must first get approved before they start working. They can also volunteer for an unpaid position off campus unrelated to their field of study as long as they have the right approval. Thus, there should be serious planning ahead to get the job approved first. To get a paid job off campus is really a matter of luck. There are plenty F-1 students with great GPAs and leadership skills who have used the professional resources on and off campus and are still jobless. This might be because most of the employers look for interns or people who will become part of their firms permanently. They do not want to train someone and waste all that money so that the person one day can go back home. It is all about what is best for their firms, and sponsorship is not a cheap process. Another reason might be the nature of their work. For example, here in Baltimore, plenty of companies deal with government work. Due to the nature of that employment, they might not be allowed to have a foreigner working on it. If an F-1 student gets a job off campus while he/she is in school, he/she will only be able to commit to 20 hours or less.
To be able to work here in the U.S. full time, at least legally, after graduation an F-1 student will need an H-1 visa, which might require a firm to pay a lot of money for it. The H-1 visa has a duration of stay of three years extendable to six years. What if they just want to work for one year after graduation? Then they can use the Optional Practical Training (OPT). However, they might have to apply for it up to 90 days before their graduation date and include their work starting date as well as paying a $380 fee. It will take three months for the application to be processed. Once it has been approved, an F-1 student has 90 cumulative days of unemployment allowed; exceeding 90 days will lead their F-1 status to be terminated. So, if you are an F-1 student and know nothing about the OPT or/and are graduating this semester, make sure to meet with an ISSO advisor and start looking and applying for jobs right now. This might help make this painful and frustrating process a little bit easier. If an F-1 visa receives a new I-20 for a different school, let’s say for a master program, during the OPT, then that OPT approval from their previous school will be revoked.
Well, do you still think that domestic students have it worse when it comes to academic and professional challenges? Probably not. If you want to know more, talk to any international student you know. They oftentimes have a very legitimate reason for taking school very seriously! But shouldn’t we all?