International students face financial squeeze

With the world-wide economic downturn, international students balance financial troubles in two worlds.

Cody Vanasse

Every student can feel the strain of the down economy, but for international students, this strain is intensified by numerous other financial obstacles: visa employment restrictions, fluctuating exchange rates and expensive trips home. Despite the tough times, however, the University of Minnesota has not seen a fall in international student numbers. International Student Scholar Services (ISSS) counselor Duane Rohovit speculated this is because the University provides an education people are willing to invest in âÄî even when theyâÄôre short on cash. The ISSS center provides international students with a central office designed to answer all questions international students may have, from meeting friends to funding education. Financially, however, ISSS can only provide emergency monetary funds, used for urgent visits to the international studentâÄôs home country if a family member has passed away or is terminally ill and overages on student health insurance. Any monetary assistance an international student needs to pay for student expenses must be obtained through scholarships or on-campus jobs. Many international students attending the University carry an F-1 student visa . The visa confirms the student has money to fund their full tenure at the University. Although some students are able to make these finances appear on paper, actually having the money available to pay for college can be more challenging. Mechanical engineering first-year and international student Daryl Lee filled out his F-1 visa application proving he had the money to attend the University for four years. But the visa didnâÄôt take into account LeeâÄôs sister, who will start college in two years. Lee is now trying to cram his four-year education into three years to save money. Lee was one of the international student recipients of the Global Excellence Scholarship, which covers either 100 percent or 50 percent of the difference between out-of-state and in-state tuition. HeâÄôs hoping the scholarship, combined with a campus job, will be enough. With the hefty tuition tab to manage, many international students struggle to afford visits home, which can cost more than $1,000 in airfare alone. âÄúIâÄôll maybe be able to go back over winter break this year [since itâÄôs my first], and summer, but I donâÄôt know about the next years,âÄù said first year international student Asma Day , who is from Tunisia. Day said she lives with her uncle to save on rent and food. âÄúItâÄôs been a struggle,âÄù she said. Unless a U.S. citizen family member is willing to sign for a private loan, F-1 visa students are left dependent on the University or to their own devices for student expenses. Exchange rates from home countries to the United States can add to the financial burden. Mechanical engineering sophomore Anirudh Krishna considered a few U.S. schools before choosing to come to the University of Minnesota, in part because of financial assistance. âÄúThe amount I spend here is so much higher because of the exchange rate,âÄù Krishna said, noting that he pays about four times more in the United States than what he would back home in Dubai. âÄúIâÄôve had to become much more frugal.âÄù Students with an F-1 visa are allowed to work part time during classes and full time during school breaks, but only if their paycheck comes from the University. More than 60 percent of international graduate students help fund their education through University research grants and assistantships. Assistantships, according to Rohovit, are taking a hard hit with the economy. âÄúUniversity assistantships provide major funding for international graduate students,âÄù Rohovit said. âÄúWith the cut [in assistantships], international students who were expecting that money canâÄôt fund their education.âÄù Jennifer Schulz , coordinator for the office of international programs, said the University is in a tough position. âÄúBeing a public University, we donâÄôt have a lot of options,âÄù Schulz said.