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Visas, Testing and Culture Shock: The International Experience

October 19, 2015

Touted as a global network university, NYU prides itself on its international presence. The university has campuses all over the world available to both NYU and non-NYU students. While domestic students and international students seamlessly blend together on campus, the latter must take a slightly more complicated path.

NYU spokesperson John Beckman said NYU’s international popularity is strong, despite the challenges applicants from abroad face, because of the university’s location.

“Our campuses in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi are very diverse geographically — more so even than our New York campus,” Beckman said. “But New York City is arguably the most international of cities, and that makes our campus here appealing to international students and families.”

Getting to the city, however, requires taking extra steps beyond filling out the Common App. In addition to applying for a visa, many students must pay additional Student and Exchange Visitor Program Fees, along with taking English proficiency exams.

NYU requires that international students whose high schools did not teach in English take a proficiency test, often the Test of English as a Foreign Language. According to NYU’s admissions website, if a student is “not deemed to be of a sufficiently high level to register for academic study,” then they must take extra non-credit English classes.

LS sophomore Julia Abreu, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, described the struggles of being an international student attending school in the United States.

“As an international student, we have extra steps to show that we speak the English language fluently, that we can pay for college, we need to apply for student visas and we seldom get financial aid,” Abreu said. “Sometimes I do feel like I miss home more because not only is it further for me to go visit, but also more expensive.”

Tuition for domestic and international students is the same, yet additional expenses for international students can arise from exchange rates and higher travel costs. Although international students are ineligible for federal financial packages, they can receive institutional aid from the university. As with domestic students, they can only apply for financial aid in their freshman year.

Beyond logistical difficulties, students who live abroad and want to attend a U.S. university often must fulfill the academic requirements of both countries. CAS sophomore Shiqin Cao, who went to the French School of Shanghai and has lived in France and China, said her final year of high school was particularly difficult because she had to balance both French and American standardized tests.“It was definitely harder for us international students because we have to learn about the SAT format testing through a third-party entity,” Cao said. “We have our own exams to take at the same time, in my case it was the French baccalaureate.”

Some students, however, attend schools whose curricula is based on U.S. formats. Steinhardt sophomore Julius Utama grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia, and said the transition to NYU was less difficult for him because he went a U.S. Embassy school.

“I did both the AP and IB curriculum, and so applying through the Common App wasn’t much of a challenge,” Utama said. “I also speak fluent English, which I think definitely made the process easier.”

International students often find that they must adjust to a different academic environments. For Stern sophomore Jennifer Barba, who is from Guadalajara, Mexico, the application process for colleges in the United States was much more involved than for colleges in her home country.

“The process of applying to universities in Mexico is much different than the United States because it’s a lot less intense and competitive,” Barba said.

These factors all create a tangled web of requirements, forms and work — yet Beckman said that year after year NYU’s international student population has grown to record sizes, with 19 percent of this year’s freshman class coming from abroad. According to NYU’s website, over 11,500 international students were enrolled in 2014, compared to under 5,000 in 2000.

The growing numbers are undoubtedly connected to the unique opportunities that stem from attending NYU and living in New York. Abreu said NYU has opened access to many resources she wouldn’t have in Brazil.

“NYU offers more opportunities to branch out academically and to find interesting work,” Abreu said. “There is just more involvement in American universities and much better opportunities.”

But even with the opportunities that NYU has to offer, students are affected by the cultural shift of coming to a new country. Utama said NYU and New York City in general have both played a large role in creating a cultural identity for himself — a sentiment he feels many international students can relate to.

“I had to reflect on many things that involved my own home culture, and whether or not I can forfeit part of it — be it values, traditions, habits, mannerisms, sayings —  to adopt an American culture,” Utama said. “While I think that every student experiences this while in college, it is definitely more salient for international students.”

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