The cost of academic failure is much higher for international students

The notion that you will face obstacles as a student in a foreign country shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The most common obstacles associated with being in a foreign environment are along the lines of homesickness, loneliness or social isolation and academic challenges because of the language barriers that may exist. These can lead to many students finding it difficult to understand lectures, and even falling behind in class, among other things. The pressure of successful academic performance on international students is not very unlike that for American students. In fact, all students regardless of studies find similar issues. But there is a bigger problem that puts an international student’s future on the line: finances, but not quite in the way most people may think.

In order to be able to study in a country like the United States as a foreigner, most students are forced to take out a student loan to pay rent and other living expenses during their study, and unlike other loans this one in particular is a very extensive. Because students coming to the States usually do so under an F-1 visa, which is the most common form of international student visa, unfortunately this visa prohibits them from working anywhere outside the campus of the school they’re attending.

Even if you were lucky enough to receive one of the very few and coveted positions that are available on campus, you are not allowed to work more than 20 hours per week. In other words earning money to provide for oneself as an international student is not only difficult, it is nearly impossible, hence the grand loans.

But there is a catch to this extensive student loan. Students from a country like Sweden for example are, just like students from many other countries, provided with financial aid from their government. In the case of Swedish students it is called the National Board of Student Aid (CSN), and according to CSN, in order to receive a student loan, you must not only have studied fulltime each semester (12 credits), which is also a requirement to maintain your status as an F-1, you must also have passed at least 12 credits in order to receive funding for future semesters. In other words, failing is not an option.

Isabel Svensson is an international student at Santa Monica College from Sweden and one of many students affected by this. “I feel the pressure. It’s not like I walk around and think about it everyday, but it is in the back of my head,” she says. Discussions among international students are composed of this topic and whether or not this is a fair rule.

“In one way I think it’s a good thing, otherwise people would come here and not take school seriously,” says Svensson, “It is why we are here, to succeed in school."

"But there should be exceptions,” says Elin Brodin, another international student at SMC, “If it, for example, is your last semester and you are close to being done and you get an "F" that should be okay… you shouldn’t be sent home for it.”

Despite having a student loan that pays for both your tuition and living expenses, it apparently does so just barely. Many international students find themselves barely getting by after paying the enormous costs of tuition and setting aside 6 months worth of rent. “After everything is paid we barely have anything left to live on," says Svensson. "Either the tuition [for international students] needs to be cheaper or we should be allowed to work."

That seems to be another taboo subject amongst internationals. According to The Seattle Globalist, many international students have, out of sheer desperation, turned to undocumented work. In other words, work illegally for little pay, which is usually paid in cash under the table. This is a sad reality considering what an asset international students are to America. According to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers, international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed a whopping $30.5 billion to the U.S. economy and contributed to 373,381 jobs in the 2014-2015 academic year alone.

Regardless of the laws this still hasn’t stopped people from all over the world coming here to study. “I think it’s hard, but worth it,” says Brodin. "You get the experience of living and studying in another country.”

Alexandra Brechensbauer, a member of the A.S. Board of Directors at SMC, is still happy that there at least are possibilities to get this type of student loan. She says, "For me it would have been impossible to study here without it.” But she does agree that the requirements on international students to succeed are a little too strict. “I had a friend who was depressed, and didn’t really manage to get any help,” says Brechensbauer. "She ended up failing many of her classes which resulted in her having to move back home against her will.”

It is easy to say that one may as well consider studying elsewhere or in one’s own home country where the costs may be lower, but traveling and studying abroad is something that so many young people dream of and if there is a possibility to make these dreams a reality, why let the fear of half-helping finances stifle their success instead of helping them all the way? “I would have given a little more wiggle room,” Brechensbauer says. “It is most often young people moving away from home for the first time. Instead of denying them financial aid [for failing], I would give students a chance to actually improve their results. I think the demands are too tough."