For international students, post-graduation plans can be particularly problematic. Not only must they decide what to do, but they are also faced with the decision of whether to return to their home countries or to remain in the United States. The extra decision may seem like an opportunity to some, while to others it may seem to make planning for the future much more complex.
What brings international students into American colleges and universities in the first place? According to Angela Goehring, St. Olafs international student adviser, American undergraduate institutions are commonly seen as the best in the world. Of St. Olafs 46 international students, most are here seeking degrees through four years of study, while others are only here for one year on an exchange program.
In coming to the United States, international students have a variety of different goals and aspirations. In Goehrings experience, St. Olafs international students commonly want to use their education to go back to their home country and make a positive difference. Others feel they can create a better life for their family by either sending money home or by bringing their family here.
On the other hand, a variety of factors cause international students to remain in the United States after graduation.
Some feel that after four years in America they are unable to return home; both they and their perceptions of their home countries have changed too much. The longer students are here, the more attached they get to the U.S., said Goehring.
Many also feel the skills and knowledge they acquire here cannot be applied at home. For example, often in the sciences students cannot find the same lab equipment in their home countries as is used in the United States due to differing levels of technology.
Naturally, an international students post-graduation plans also often depend on his or her major. For example, Goehring said that economics students are wooed here by big American companies and the opportunity for well paying jobs after graduation.
As a result of these factors, many of the international students who graduate from St. Olaf stay in the United States. Their student visas include an Optional Practical Training benefit, or one year to work in the United States after graduation. In order to remain in the United States after the expiration of that year, a work visa and eventually a green card must be obtained.
An alternative to entering the work force is attending graduate school in the United States.
Shraddha Mehta 04, an international student from India, is thinking about attending graduate school in economics and math. After a masters degree, Mehta believes she might work for a couple of years to get some experience for a career, but is unsure whether she will remain the United States after that point. Im just taking it one step at a time, she said.
Some, such as Philana Roberts 04, a student from Guyana, have discovered their true passions while at St. Olaf. Ive basically discovered my identity of who I am, she said.
Roberts, who is involved in Student Government Association (SGA) and is the Diversity Celebrations Committee (DCC) coordinator, wants to eventually work with diversity issues in churches and is thinking about working towards her masters in higher education.
Ive become very passionate about [diversity] and the goals of DCC and thats my passion and thats why I think of doing that right after school, said Roberts.