Clarkies are nothing if not involved, striving to be heard and make a change in even the smallest of ways. On April 15th, we heard of a group of students and administrators who spoke out on issues that affect students in each and every college in America, especially those at Clark. They had attended the 2014 Advocacy Day of the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA) to learn the art of lobbying for policy reform and advocate for the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act and Immigration Reform in Washington D.C. Eliana Hadjiandreou, Oscar Zapata Podestà, Daniella Rae and Radhika Sharma represented the students, and Patricia Doherty and Constance Whitehead Hanks the administrators of Clark University. The following are their stories.
Patricia Doherty: My experience at the Office of Intercultural Affairs has shown to me what a vital role international students play at Clark, and the United States. Their presence enriches all, broadening the understanding of culture, knowledge and skills, making America competitive internationally and promoting the educational values we stand for. Yet, currently the U.S. has lost 10% of its market share for international students to other countries who have understood the value of diversity. One of the foremost reasons for our lack of competitiveness is the restrictive immigration and employment laws that we impose on these students. Last year, two students came to me to apply for their Optional Practical Training, and yet they told me that they probably wouldn’t use this opportunity as there were better opportunities to be found in other countries. It is truly unfortunate that we are driving away an integral element of our education, economy, and society.
Radhika Sharma: Applying and interviewing for my F1 visa was one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life. I was terrified going into my interview as I had heard horror stories of other students being rejected on various grounds. One of my acquaintances, who was a brilliant student and consistently first in his class, applied to one specific college in North Carolina as their course offerings suited his career interests perfectly. He was accepted by this college, only to be denied the F1 visa on grounds that he applied to only one college, which was deemed suspicious. The lives of people are decided everyday by those who interview you. I felt like a criminal being interrogated during my interview. I understand that there are practical considerations, such as security threats and illegal immigration, which need to be addressed, but countless innocent people suffer in the process.
Constance Whitehead Hanks: My story deals with study abroad, for this is an integral part of the internationalization of American higher education. 1% of all students in American colleges study abroad, which points to a grave lack of exposure that a vast majority of our students have to the rest of the world. While Clark performs much better than national standards, with 30-40% of the student population studying in international programs, we still have much to achieve in catching up with colleges that mandate study abroad for all of their students. The reason why Clark’s statistics are lower than this is because international students have few opportunities to access aid for study abroad, which forces them to forego these opportunities. Studying abroad enriches individual students, the university, and our country. Yet, we deny our students the opportunity to be culturally aware and turn away students who bring that to our doorstep.
Eliana Hadjiandreou: The Federal Budget Proposal for 2015 aims to increase education and cultural exchange allocations for countries that haven’t received much attention in the past. As admirable as this is, it comes at the cost of decreasing funding to the Fulbright Program. The program is to suffer a budget cut of 13% of core funding. It is deeply distressing that America’s flagship international exchange program, registering over 325,000 alumni from over 155 countries, will be affected by this lack of support from the government. With this budget cut 1,040 students will be denied scholarships, dashing their hopes of studying in the U.S. and gaining a world class education. As a Fulbright scholar myself, I understand how important this program is to students around the world. I could have been one of that 1,040, and missed out on the wonderful experiences of studying at Clark. Please join us in saving the Fulbright Program by signing the online petition at www.savefulbright.org/.
Oscar Zapata Podestà: I want to speak about gaining work experience, and how crucial that is to any student in today’s competitive job market. As we say at Clark, the application of knowledge gained in the classroom is of vital importance, and we need this experience to prepare us for the real world. However, with federal limitations on the employability of international students, it is near impossible to gain work experience. I found several exciting opportunities through my personal networks and Clark Varsity Soccer, but I could not secure any of those positions because of my F1 status. As a result, I am forced to go to Peru to find any form of employment over the summer. We need to create change. To enable international students to access a complete educational experience and contribute to the U.S. economy.
Daniella Rae: I believe that if you want change, it should begin with you. I studies abroad in South Africa and it was a transformative experience for me. The level of cultural immersion and the knowledge I gained through it has enhanced my abilities in many ways, and I’m sure that I can work at the Foreign Service with an accurate understanding of who is affected by my work, and in what manner. In comparison, I find it strange that some people in that sector make policies on countries that they have never visited or studied. It is unfortunate that more students from Clark and America don’t study abroad, and that there is a dearth in government support for such initiatives. It was an uplifting moment for me to present this case before congressional staff and it has led me to believe that if we all took a stand on what is near and dear to us, that change can be wrought.