International Students Suffer from Tuition Increase

What does it take to reach the American dream when the home of the brave is a pricey foreign land?

Between tuition fee augmentation, living costs, book fees, health insurance, social security cards, labor restrictions and cultural clashes, it is not always an easy thing to be an international student in a post 9/11 America.

Last August's tuition fees increased from $18 to $26 per unit. California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has left many American and international students with anger and the inability to pursue their education.

But for international students who have to pay additional fees, the bill can be a heavy burden.

"It makes our student life harder; it will be impossible for me to be at SMC without my family's help," said Gokhan Gunec, a student from Turkey.

Together with expensive Los Angeles living costs, international students are required to pay the $26 per unit enrollment fee, plus a $30 Student Services fee and are mandated to pay a Non-Resident fee of $171 per unit, along with health insurance that recently increased from $300 to $330 per semester.

For Darryl Keith Ogata, the Director of the International Programs at the International Education Center, the cost of getting an education in the U.S. might be expensive, but it does not compare to the value of getting a higher education at SMC which is still inexpensive in comparison to UC and Cal State schools.

"It is a good opportunity for students to come here and begin their studies in a good educational environment, so they can go ahead and move on," said Ogata.

But even though SMC is affordable in comparison to other schools, many students are struggling to meet their financial obligations.

Stéphanie Dumoulin, an international student from France, said, "I came here with a budget, but fees have kept on increasing and I am not allowed to work off the campus, so what am I suppose to do to pay everything on time?" The status of an F-1 visa student only gives the eligibility to work for a maximum time of 19.5 hours per week in only certain job areas offered on campus.

As a result, students without the adequate financial resources are often forced to abandon their educational careers and go back home. Many of them work illegally in under-the-table jobs, where most of the time, they are taken advantage of. Furthermore, some students illegally marry American citizens, convinced that a green-card will open the doors to a brighter future.

"Not everyone from outside the country can come here and study, they have to have the financial resources," said Ogata.

9/11 has made it harder for international students to obtain social security cards, which causes them trouble to get the most banal, but necessary things done such as obtaining a bank account or an apartment.

But if many international students believe that less restrictive measures on their status would make their lives easier, there are still many issues an F-1 visa student must confront.

With roughly 2,500 international students from over a hundred different countries who have left their families and friends behind to come study at SMC, the help and understanding of the SMC International department is crucial.

"The International department does the best it can to make every student feel at home," said Luis Alberto Vega Hernández, a student from Mexico.

At first, many students are faced with a lack of language skills, loneliness, homesickness, and cultural issues. The international department staff is trained to understand these cultural clashes that many students go through.

"It is very, very hard to be an international student especially in L.A. There is a lot involved, not only language and cultural issues," said Gail Fukuhara the faculty leader of the International Education Counseling Center.

The course Counseling 11 is covered by international counselors and provided to every international student to help them understand the American classroom and educational system and to maximize their success here in the U.S. In addition, the international department encourages students to join clubs.

"For some students making friends with others is not an easy task in a commuter school with no dormitories," said Fukuhara who wants students to have fun while they are in the U.S.

Students can join the International Student Club that meets every Thursday from 11:15 a.m. to 12:35 p.m. in LS 117.