I studied abroad in the USA, and yes, I am telling you not to.
It isn’t because Donald Trump is the president now, but for many other pre-existed reasons before he came into the picture. I am not a US citizen, but I would urge those who are to also consider taking your college education somewhere else. I will be writing from the perspective of an international student, but some of the opinions work for citizens, too.
So why did I choose the USA to study abroad 14 years ago?
Well, besides the fact that I wanted an education that was drastically different from the system of Taiwan, I was 14 years old, and the access to information was limited back then. I had relatives living in the states, and it seemed like a logical choice. Although I still lived three and half hours drive away from my aunts and uncles, it made my parents felt more comfortable knowing they could help me if anything.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t regret my decision.
My time in the States was an important chapter of my life. The people I met there nurtured me to become who I am today. Heck, I probably wouldn’t be writing here with this level of English if I made other choices. Plus, living in New York City helped me to make friends from around the world, which has a tremendous impact on my travels today, but all these still don’t change the fact that:
Studying in the USA is expensive.
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I know I am lucky. I have the best parents in the world who sponsored a big chunk of my living and studying costs in the states for many years. However, even with help, I am still paying the loans today, and I don’t see it coming to an end anytime soon.
If I can choose again, I would choose a country that’s more affordable.
Getting a scholarship is possible. In fact, I received a fair amount of scholarship from Cleveland Institute of Music (Cleveland, Ohio) and almost a full ride to the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, New York).
I ended up choosing Manhattan School of Music in NYC instead and turned down the scholarships offer. After all, living in the city was my dream. I know you probably think I was f*cking spoiled, and sometimes, I still think I should have gone to Eastman for the money. Like I said, I would choose another country if I knew better.
The mental battle never ends, especially when I remember I still have that loan to pay off.
Financial aid and work study are only available for USA citizens. If you are applying for graduate study, you can work as a teaching assistant. I was an adjunct faculty of my grad school, and the income helped a lot. Otherwise, technically, you are not allowed to work when you are on a student visa, but in many other countries, you can.
Look, studying abroad is not just about getting that piece of paper.
It’s about the experience, and many other countries can provide you with the experience. I picked NYC because my other options wouldn’t provide the experiences I would get in the city. I know it’s a privileged to be able to make that choice.
Tuition is not only what drains the pocket. You need to calculate the costs of health insurance and living expenses, too. Considering all that, I would make an entirely different choice if someone sat me down when I was 14, analysed the costs and showed me other possibilities.
Money is always going to be a part of the concern unless you’re extremely well off, but if what you are seeking to experience IS the American culture, and you can afford to study there, do it then. Otherwise, seriously, forget about the states and pick somewhere else. I would if I can choose again today.
You also need to think further, think beyond, and think long-term.
What do you wish to do after you complete your study? Do you want to get another degree or find work and stay in the country? Of course, you can always go back home afterwards, but if that’s not what you want, the USA wouldn’t be the best choice either.
Here are a few scenarios for international students who want to stay in the states after graduation:
A) The Best Case Scenario: You are on top of your field or in an area that desperately needs people.
You already have a company that can sponsor your H1B work visa, maybe even a green card if you are lucky. Well, congrats to you! Are you ready for the work culture in the states? This topic is worth its own discussion.
B) You spend hundreds of dollars and apply for an OPT* upon your graduation and look for work during the year when it’s valid.
If you don’t get a work visa or green card sponsorship during the year of OPT, you leave. Note that you can only work in the related field of your study. There’s a cap on the number of H1B visa the US government issues each year, so if you fall behind the game, there’s a chance you might not get it. Also, there’s a rumour that the US is raising the bar for the qualifications to apply for this type of visa.
C) You are an artist or a musician. (Hell, this was me.) Your line of work doesn’t just have one employer but many.
You need a full-time job to be qualified for an H1B, and that’s not the case for freelance artists and musicians. Even if you teach at a music studio, they won’t sponsor your work visa. They can file the application for you, but you need to pay all the fee yourself, and it’s not 100% that the authority would approve the application.
There’s another type of visa called O1 for outstanding artists. I know a few people who had successfully gotten this kind of visa, but most likely, you need to spend thousands of dollars hiring an immigration lawyer to help you carve the way. (And again, if you are good enough, then you might have a patron that sponsors everything.)
D) Your love happens to be a US citizen, and you plan to get married.
I am happy for you. You saved a lot of trouble, (but you will go through other troubles.) There’s nothing wrong with marrying for citizenship if having a long distance relationship isn’t even a part of your consideration. Hey, guess what, I once had a lover who offered me to marry him, but I refused the proposal because I didn’t see him as a life partner. My point is, do not marry JUST for the citizenship. That is messed up.
So, is staying in the USA really worth all that time, energy, and money?
By all means, if you think studying and living in the USA is your destiny, it is calling you, and you are willing to go through everything just to have a life there. Go for it. It’s still a great country with many fine institutions that provide top notch education.
Other countries can do the same for you, too.
For the record, I have Taiwanese and American friends that study abroad in France, Austria, Germany, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Poland, China, England, Holland, Hungary, even the Philippines, Jordan (!) and Japan.
Why not find another country that’s more friendly to your (or your parents’) wallet and perhaps has a more relaxed law for international students?
If you are open to see other possibilities, now is easier than ever. Many people are sharing their studying abroad experiences on the internet. Searching for new information is only fingertips away.
Here are a few thoughts for you to take away if you are considering studying abroad:
- What kind of culture are you interested? Can you see yourself living there for at least a year or two?
- Are you interested in learning a different language other than English?
- What are the countries that are influential in your field of expertise?
- What about the weather? If you cannot take the cold and long dark nights, you might want to avoid all Nordic countries, just saying.
- And of course, money is always an issue. What are the living expenses like in the countries of your interest? Are you able to work part-time if you need some extra money?
*Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period during which undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than nine months are permitted to work for one year on a student visa. (Wikipedia)
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Also published on Medium.