You’re an international student: Now what?

I received my acceptance letter to the University of Virginia in May 2017. First came excitement, but a month later came stone-cold fear. Unlike my peers in my graduation class, I had no opportunity to visit Virginia. The first time I stepped off the plane in the United States was one month before I started classes. At eighteen years old, I packed up my entire life in Johannesburg, South Africa and moved across the world.

Four years of keeping half my wardrobe in a suitcase, cutting the u’s out of my papers when using words like ‘honor’ and ‘color’ and fully adjusting to the Fahrenheit temperature scale. Now, I found myself applying to one of the greatest journalism schools in the country. I felt I was really pushing my luck in applying, but again, I was accepted.

From experience, I followed the same routine: excitement, fear, packing up and moving, and leaving behind a life I completely cultivated for myself. Once again, it was just me and my suitcases.

An eight-hour drive brought me up to the Newhouse School to study magazine, news and digital journalism. This time, however, the fear has not subsided. This time, come graduation, I will not have another routine to fall into. I will not have a school structure to lean up against, but rather the big, scary working world. And, being international, there are even more considerations.

This time, graduation means returning home to switch my visa from one that says “student” to one that says “work.” These aren’t as easy to come by. These are denied more than they are approved. I need to receive a job offer before I throw my cap in the air. This means not only asking an employer to hire me, but to sponsor my continued life in America. For international students, we might wonder why an employer would go that extra mile just to keep us here.

Here’s why: We worked hard at a young age to move across the world and now have the experience of adaptation and growth to apply to anything. There is no more fear of walking into a room of strangers, or of being placed in an arbitrary city to work. The independence gained from being international is a bonus to, not a detraction from, my applications.

To other international students facing similar challenges, I give this advice:

  1. Get ahead. From the moment you step foot on U.S soil, you are living an extremely temporary life. This is daunting for someone like me who plans months in advance. International students have to stay one step ahead. When I started freshman year, I already knew I needed to find a way to complete a graduate year.
  2. Stay organized. Stay on top of all requirements and signatures on your I-20 and other important paperwork. Make lists, keep track of your goals, and fight like hell to reach them.
  3. Don’t settle for less. Yes, you’re at a slight disadvantage, but the work you did to get here means something. Don’t think that you are lesser because you’re not an official citizen. Newhouse is here for you, and opportunities are available to you.
  4. Ask for help. This is one I even struggle with. We are determined to get this right on our own, but using the resources around you is always a smarter move. It’s why they’re here.
  5. Enjoy every minute. Newhouse creates many opportunities for you to meet and hang with your cohort and even your professors. Take the time to appreciate the small things. Yes, this is temporary, so live with that YOLO mindset and have fun while you’re here!
Jamey Bulloch

Jamey Bulloch is a graduate student in the  magazine, news and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School.