International students share mixed experiences and challenges in early years at MSU

International students, just like out-of-state and in-country students, must also adjust to college life, while living in a new country.

Every international student’s experience is unique: some face more challenges than others.

Challenges related to work authorization and health care

Sophomore journalism student Wali Khan arrived at MSU last August from Singapore.

Due to legal complications, Khan was unable to return home for the summer and had a sublet in East Lansing. Last semester he lived at Owen Hall.

Khan is an F-1Visa college student which allows him to study full-time at MSU. International students studying in the United States are not permitted to work more than 20 hours per week during the school year. During the summer they cannot exceed 40 hours per week.

“Getting a social security number and getting a job here with work authorization is incredibly taxing,” Khan said. “It’s really difficult, especially when you’re not sure your employer can go through the (visa sponsorship) paperwork.”

Another challenge mentioned by Khan involves health insurance, which all MSU students and scholars are required to have. The university offers a healthcare plan for international students through the Blue Care Network, or BCN.

Regarding mental health services, Khan said some providers in the region cannot accept the insurance provided by the university.

“I think that’s also worth pointing out…many psychiatrists in the region find it difficult to accept…the reassurance the school offers international students,” Khan said. “So basically what’s going to happen is if you’re an international student who needs psychiatric help, you might be able to go to (MSU) CAPS for about three sessions, but then you’ll be referred.”

Additionally, Khan said there was a barrier to entering into an insurance plan and receiving a medical card.

“I’ve heard of international students who didn’t even get their insurance card in the mail until the semester after they joined — which happened to me, too,” Khan said. “I think I got my health insurance card at the end of my first semester.”

Coping with feelings of isolation

Sophomore Astrophysics Agrim Gupta is an Indian international student at MSU. He was able to return home about three weeks earlier this summer to visit family.

“I just returned home to reconnect with my family, especially my parents and my sister,” Gupta said. “I hadn’t been to India for about a year.”

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Now Gupta is back in East Lansing in an off-campus apartment.

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“Compared to the fall and spring semesters, which are packed with people, the summer is a bit dull, there aren’t many students,” Gupta said. “Most of my friends are at home or working somewhere else, so it’s a bit lonely during the summer.”

Gupta said the main problem international students face is making new friends with different people. He advises students to get to know everyone they can.

“Diversity at MSU really helps you meet people from all over the world,” Gupta said. “(Connect) with them as soon as you hit campus in freshman year – I think that’s the main advice I’ll give…just throw yourself in there in the mix.”

Since there are hundreds of student organizations at MSU, Gupta said it’s difficult to decide which ones to join and which groups to devote his time to.

“I was in the quiz club and the astronomy club my first month at MSU,” Gupta said. “I dropped quiz club because I was like, ‘Yeah, my interests don’t lie here. That’s sort of the main challenge, which activities to get involved in.

Gupta said his transition to college went easier than he expected due to a week-long community service program he attended before the fall semester, as well as the early arrival of international students.

“MSU does its best to provide a smooth transition for international students to acclimatize to the environment here,” Gupta said. “There are also a lot of international clubs at MSU, like the International Scholars Advisory Board, and then there’s also a club for each nation.”

Pay extra expenses and learn how to file taxes

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Applied Engineering Science Junior Rochisshil Varma is an Indian international student who spent his three semesters at MSU online, due to COVID-19. He only set foot on campus in the spring of 2022, during which time he became a Resident Assistant.

“I would say my experience was a little bit different because when I arrived,” Varma said. “I was a first time Spartan, but at the same time I was also an RA who is supposed to be a mentor to other Spartans.”

Varma is the vice president of the International Students Association, or ISA, and said he was lucky to have been elected.

“I feel like I had a lot of opportunities and met a lot of people,” Varma said.

Regarding the challenges, Varma said international students are required to pay extra expenses that are not necessary for other students. Additional costs include transportation from the airport and rental of storage space in the summer.

While most students pack their things at the end of the year and have their families and friends help them get home, most international students don’t have that option, Varma said.

Overall, Varma said the Office for International Students and Scholars, or OISS, has resources to help international students while in the country, but there is still room for improvement.

“MSUFCU has a financial education workshop where they show how to build a credit system and everything,” Varma said. “They say it’s focused on international students, but then again…do international students really know that? Have you made sure your information reaches the right audience?”

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Resources for international students and scholars

OISS has counselors available to help students and scholars with issues they face at MSU.

OISS director Krista McCallum Beatty said the office provides support for international students, scholars and professors around the world, including immigration and scholar orientation support.

“We host many events for students with the goal of helping them succeed and helping them truly engage with the university and the campus community,” said McCallum Beatty. “We also provide limited financial assistance and … we are also responsible for ensuring the university’s compliance with federal immigration regulations relating to the enrollment of international students.”

As for work-related complications, McCallum Beatty said students can seek help from MSU’s Career Services Network. Other resources on work authorization and immigration are available on the OISS website.

McCallum Beatty also said a Career Services staff member works closely with the OISS to help students find internships and post-graduate jobs.

“If it’s an immigration-related matter, they should definitely go to the OISS first,” she said. “If it’s more, ‘how do I get a job?’, resume review, interview practice, there are plenty of resources out there, both within their college and then in the service network. Professional orientation.”

McCallum Beatty said the OISS has advisers who focus specifically on health insurance issues. She said the easiest way to get in touch with them is through the OISS website.

If students are having trouble finding providers who accept insurance, McCallum Beatty said students can also contact BCN directly.

“If they’re more comfortable, they can talk to our health insurance advisors and they’ll help them understand how it works and find a list of providers,” she said.

Additionally, McCallum Beatty said the OISS sends out a weekly newsletter that includes upcoming events, which are ways for students to meet new people.

“I think the big message is that if international students need any help, OISS has the resources at their disposal,” said McCallum Beatty. “Often we are seen as just the immigration office, but we do so much more than that.” 

What international students wish others knew about them

Khan said he would like to see an organization that champions international students, apart from the OISS.

“We are constantly pushed away from our opinion because there is no student organization,” Khan said. “There is OISS but I don’t see a more independent F-1 student association standing up for your rights.”

Khan said he wants students and other members of the MSU community to know that international students are not all the same.

“We are not a monolith in the sense that when someone thinks of international students, they think of someone who is unfortunately unprepared for bureaucracy or the hardships of American life,” Khan said.

It’s also important to recognize that international students need to stay on top of everything, Khan said.

“There are a lot of barriers and obstacles that are definitely invisible to people who aren’t more aware of how the odds are against F-1 students,” Khan said. “I’d like to see a better effort from the school and educate people who aren’t aware of it, or some sort of collective action.”

This story is part of our print issue of Welcome Week 2022. Read full issue here.

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