Op-Ed, 04/15, MEJO 153
Being foreign feels like being the black sheep in the flock. In this case, the flock is a public university in the United States.
Throughout my life, I have attended international schools where at least 50% of the student body is foreign. That is, before coming to the University of North Carolina, where 85% of the student body is from North Carolina alone.
With a mere 3.4% of undergraduate students being international, I worried I would struggle to find my place in the community.
Initially, I seemed to fit in just fine. However, as time passed, I realized UNC does not possess the correct tools to receive international students.
The school organizes events for international students, and offers a large variety of language courses. There are numerous clubs and affinity groups on campus, but nonetheless, the school does not know how to welcome students who are anything but American.
Prior to arriving on campus, I scrolled through the UNC website, searching for any information specifically for international students. I was almost completely unsuccessful, barely managing to find the size of our population.
This lack of information has served as a motif throughout my time here. There is little to no information on financial aid for internationals, or “non-resident aliens” as we are commonly referred to.
I receive countless emails from Honors Carolina, Hussman School of Journalism and the Academic Advising Program on a weekly basis. The last email I received from International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) was 60 days ago.
There have been a total of two international student meet-ups this school year. Although there are multiple clubs and organizations on campus, not one has been endorsed or advertised by the school itself.
This would be less problematic if us internationals weren’t used to advertise the school as “worldly”. There are multiple mentions of the extensive international community at UNC throughout the website.
“International students are an amazing part of Carolina,” is written on the admissions website. “We appreciate the perspectives, experiences, and ideas they contribute to campus.”
One would think that such an “amazing part of Carolina” would not be neglected as we often are. We are talked about as if we are an integral part of the community, but in reality, we are treated as no more than an advertisement technique.
In terms of social integration, UNC itself cannot be blamed. However, I am certain that if the school helped with our transition into the United States, other students would lead by example.
In my experience, it is easier to introduce myself as “living in Washington, D.C.”, than saying I am from Brazil. Many in-state students treat us as the token foreign friend, rather than a peer.
As a highly ranked public university, UNC has the responsibility to provide all their students with equal support systems. This is not the case. I commonly encounter Career Services advisors on campus, but none are prepared to assist non-resident aliens.
One might consider, for example, that international students are expected to pay for the full price of tuition, rarely receiving financial aid. The school could at least assist us in applying for work permits, so that we may provide our families with some financial relief.
I have sent a handful of emails to ISSS inquiring about the steps I should take to obtain a work permit, all of which were unanswered.
My point is not that international students should receive special attention from the university. It is however, that we at least deserve the assistance to be able to achieve the same things our in-state peers do.
We are not less capable. Most of us are bilingual. Regardless of the lack of resources offered by the school, most international students thrive academically and socially at UNC. That does not mean, however, that the school cannot do more.
Black sheep are just sheep. Us sheep deserve the chance to compete with our colleagues in a just manner. We should not have to fight for our place at a school we already fought to be accepted into.