For most Americans, college is a time for optimism, a time when the challenges of career and adulthood seem too far off to make you worry. You’re exploring and the possibilities are limitless. There’s even a term for it: delayed adulthood.
By contrast, an international student studying in the US experiences something more like accelerated adulthood. Financial independence, including immediate access to funds via multiple sources, is a must. Employment is not an option without stacks of paperwork and legal certifications (in addition to the challenges of the standard application/interview process). And the chances of simply staying in the country are a gamble with tough odds, even for the most exceptional candidates.
And yet, every day we meet international students who inspire us. They have energy, they have a sense of humor, and they do not plan to give up on their dreams. Wendy Yeh, a Taiwanese student completing her master’s degree in education at the University of San Francisco, is as inspiring as anyone we’ve met in this regard. SelfScore spoke with her recently about the importance of family and culture, the challenge of being unable to accept a dream job offer, and — most importantly — her American dream.
What are the challenges of being away from home?
Actually, I don’t really have home-sickness [laughs]. I enjoy my life in San Francisco, there are lots of Chinese immigrants here, and I have some relatives nearby as well. That gives me courage to fight for my dream.
You said you intended to stay here after you finished your program? Why here instead of Taiwan?
Everyone has an American dream, and so do I. I thought after I graduate, I can pursue my American dreams here. It’s not that Taiwan isn’t good — it’s more convenient for me to live there than here in many ways. I just feel like I’m still young and I want to find some challenge for my life.
When you say American dream, can you explain that?
I thought I would earn more teaching here than in Taiwan. Also, I can speak Mandarin and a lot of people want to learn Mandarin here. If I’m in Taiwan, I’ll be an English speaker competing with Americans who are native speakers, even if they’re not in the education field. They can get paid a lot more than me.
I’ve been through a lot these two years. I know I can’t work legally during school but there’s a program for students on F-1 visas called CPT. And I got a job offer from the YMCA and tried to apply for CPT via the University of San Francisco. But they denied my request because I need to finish one year of school before I can apply. So that’s frustrating but I got over it.
After last semester, I had one full year of school and got an offer from Presidio Knolls, a private Mandarin immersion school in San Francisco as a substitute teacher — it’s a perfect opportunity for me. I applied for CPT again and again they denied me because they said it’s, “not a regular job.” The other thing that’s silly about CPT: you have to take a 3-unit class as part of your job and you have to pay for that class. So you end up paying to work.
Are you optimistic even after all these setbacks?
Yes, I am. I think I’m a pretty good candidate for these jobs. I’ll keep at it.
What kind of financial challenges did you face in the US?
The spending level is so high in SF. I used to live in Long Beach in Los Angeles and the rent there was about $500 for a big house and a big room. Here I spend over $1000 for a really small, old house that I share with a roommate. I’ve tried to find scholarships and none were available. The tuition is crazy.
What happened when you looked for a student credit card?
My friends told me to get a credit card and build credit. I tried multiple times with Citibank and they always used different reasons to deny me — they said I couldn’t get a card because my permanent address was in Taiwan. So eventually I had tried to get credit so many times that it lowered my credit score. Then I got the SelfScore credit card and I’ve been using that to build my credit back up.
How was the process of getting the card?
It was surprisingly easy compared to other companies. I just put all my information online and provided my student visa and my I-20. And they said, “You’re approved.” Usually, I expect the letter from the bank that says, “We’re sorry, but…” This was a surprise.
Overall, do you feel welcomed in the US?
I feel lucky because all my classmates are really welcoming. They’re interested in my culture. I feel welcomed by this society. When I interview for my nanny jobs or other jobs, it feels like people are really friendly.
If you could change one thing about your experience in the US what would it be?
Give more opportunity for international students looking for jobs. Don’t put so many limits on us. We’re not trying to steal work from Americans. We’re trying to get jobs because we want to realize our own American dream. We’re not here to occupy others. If I could change anything, it would be to create more opportunity for international students who want jobs.
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