A Guide to International College Students in the US

By Melina Giorgalletou

As of early 2020, international students make up about 5.5 percent of the total U.S. higher education population, compromising just over one million students. According to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contributed $44.7 billion to the

U.S. economy in 2018. The United States is one of the countries with the largest international student population as it offers the most career-driven opportunities, unique life experiences and outstanding education, even in community colleges. So why should international students choose the US? And if they do or already have chosen it to be their choice of educational broadening, how can they make the most out of it?

Today, society communicates from the tip of their fingers. Mobile phones are the reason everyone stays in contact, whether it is a friend next door or a loved one an ocean away.

Therefore, technology has been an advancement that has allowed international students to spread their wings into greater places. This is a reason why so many internationals get to study abroad without feeling the extreme nostalgia away from family and friends, because they can catch up anytime they desire. Therefore, a recommendation for when studying abroad in the US, is to, definitely, own a mobile phone of which you can access social media with and keep in touch with loved ones. At the same time, international students need to be aware of emails from their school, phone calls and have contact with their international student office of their college and with their advisor. This is vital for an international student’s reassured survival in the US as staying in contact with the school in general assures that everything has been done correctly and nothing can jeopardize their legal stay in the US.

So, technology is one important thing for international students. At the same time, familiarizing themselves with the laws and rights of an international student in the US, will help keep internationals informed and aware of what they need to know. Many internationals spoken to around campus, before the lockdown of CUNY schools, mentioned that many professors usually give out this specific tip. This is to always have photocopies or digital pictures of your visa and I-20 just in case ICE makes a surprise appearance.

To add, as an international student, attending orientation day is very important as crucial advise is given to internationals about taxes. Did you know that an international student also has to file taxes? According to internationalstudent.com, “Every international student is required to file a tax return as a condition of your visa, but not everyone will pay taxes to the American government. International students are entitled to a number of benefits and exemptions, so many will not owe anything.” Being a nonresident alien for tax purposes and filing a proper tax return in the United States, will make sure that the US will not tax your income from non-American sources. Of course, “if you earned an income from a job in the United States, received scholarship money from an American organization, or made interest on money in an American bank account, you made US source income.” The full list of potential income sources can be found on the IRS website where it entails everything you need to know about taxes.

Of course, anything you need to know, specifically if you are a QCC international student, Single Stop, on campus, is a program that can answer any questions you have. It is a program that strives to help students overcome problems that arise by utilizing existing resources to their fullest offered help. According to their website, “The program provides free benefit screening, legal services, financial counseling, and tax preparation and filing.”

As an international student, many personal problems will come to the surface too.

Encountering problems in one’s life is something extremely common, and no one has to do it alone. Every college contains a career services and counseling services on campus. According to the Queensborough Community College website, you can find the career services in the ‘Kurt R. Schmeller Library Building’ in room L-429 and the Counseling services is found in the Library Building, as well, in L-422. These two services are extremely helpful for advisement whether it is personal, career-centered or any school related problems you need help with. An anonymous student from Queensborough Community College, was inquired how these services helped her and she answered with positive remarks, “I struggle with some personal problems, since as an international student I lack the emotional support needed from family and peers. So I had someone to rely on in this place.” Indeed, international students do struggle more than regular college students born in the place they are studying in, but it does not mean they do not have access to help that they can utilize and take advantage of. College campuses are a safe space where anyone can seek the help they need with no shame.

In addition, international students, especially, should take advantage of the content- related and writing tutoring centers. In QCC the two tutoring centers (one focused on helping with English writing and the other focused on content-related help) are combined in one with the name of Center for Tutoring and Academic Support. There you can go for advisement, tutoring and even for self-studying with free access to computers and biology lab models. A tutor from the Learning Center of CTAS, named Natalia Giorgalletou, expressed that, “Since joining the faculty in the tutoring center a year ago, I have had the gratitude and pleasure of helping and working with students that expressed the need for help and were determined and open to receiving that help. It is the best feeling in the world when, while you’re tutoring someone that is struggling, they get it and it’s all thanks to the method the center is teaching us to help out these students.” To add, did you know that an international student, to avoid being in danger of termination from the college and the US, needs to hold a minimum GPA of 2.0? This is another reason why, if you’re a struggling student, you need to attend tutoring to keep up with all the work assigned to you.

But what about income? F-1 visa prohibits students from applying for off-campus work, which usually offers a higher income than on-campus job. However, this does not mean that an international student cannot get an on-campus job that can pay well and offer experience that can be added on the resume. Many internationals have become tutors in the CTAS, or have acquired a job in the library, or have even worked in the Starbucks or cafeteria on campus. These jobs may pay around $15 an hour, but it still pays enough for helping out the parents or sponsors paying for the student’s studies. It’s always a great feeling to have a job and have the sense that you’re helping out. Receiving that first paycheck is an amazing feeling, and every international student should try getting an on-campus job by their second year. The first year, of course, is more for adjustment and getting used to the new teaching and testing system of a new, foreign country.

An important tip is, even though internationals would like to have a normal college life, and usually come from countries where the alcohol age limits is lower than 21, they should stir far from bars and anything illegal like drugs and alcohol. This is because, if caught drinking as a minor, the student’s F-1 visa may be terminated and he or she may be sent back home. That is why it is so important to check the laws of a country and city that is very different to what they come from – to be one or two steps ahead and make sure they are doing everything adequate for the legal system.

With that said, putting the serious stuff aside for now, international students can have fun too, while guaranteeing a stable stay in the US. Internationals struggle sometimes to make friends, and group projects in class along with joining clubs and activities happening on campus are a great way to do so. Forming tight friendships won’t be easy, but once established, they can be long-term and very helpful! Whether one’s interests stem from love for writing, debating, playing chess or even video games, there is a club for almost anything that one is interested in. Being active in the community and social will ensure students to have a quality college life, instead of being stuck at home or in the library with their noses buried in a book. Around campus there are many areas you can go to like Springfield Boulevard, which is only a 10 minute walk away from QCC. It has bubble tea, a Starbucks, sushi, a Subway, frozen yoghurt, and pizza.

Finally, there is also the Student Union Building that contains billiard tables, TV, hang out spots to eat and chat with friends and even a microwave that students can access.

Being an international student definitely has its struggles, but that does not mean that one has to stay struggling. Making the most out of a difficult situation is what people always have to do to move forward. When two international students were prompted to answer how it’s like being an international student, one of them said she misses home. The other one said her time here is better than she thought. Of course, there will be times when home is all students seek, but always remember why you are here and how hard you fought to be here. It may be a struggle at first, but time can really be enjoyed once goals are set and careers are pursued diligently.

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