April 24, 2017

LEE | International Students as Non-Resident Aliens

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As prospective Class of 2021 students from all over the country explore campus on Cornell Days ahead of the May 1st College Decision Day, a particular group appears to be underrepresented. International students, who compose about 11 percent of the undergraduate student population, are becoming more talked about but rarely given their own platform.

President Trump’s nationalistic policies such as cuts on H-1B visas for high-skilled non-immigrants, Cornell’s elimination of the need-blind financial aid policy for international students, and concerns regarding a rapid increase in international student admission rates have placed these “nonresident aliens” under the spotlight. Yet throughout the country and around campus, misconceptions about international students persist, stemming from a lack of engagement between American citizens and noncitizens.

According to the admissions website, Cornell admits and retains international students because of its values for diversity and globalism. International students go through the same application process as all other first-year applicants with the exception of a required TOEFL or IELTS score for those whose first language is not English. Still, many wrongly perceive of international admissions as a lenient gateway for “rich international kids” who willingly pay the full tuition to get in.

Many fail to understand that international students cannot simply be put under one category. These students come from more than 100 different countries, each with different socioeconomic backgrounds. For some, the distinctions are clearer between those from the east and west coast than for those from China and South Korea. The tendency to observe international students from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, Middle East, and Oceania under a single category is a highly misleading symptom of “othering” non-Americans.

Within the international student population, several divides exist such that they should not simply be seen as a single group. In fact, the economic disparity is more apparent amongst internationals. While U.S. citizens have various federal and private resources to fund their education, most non-citizens are expected to pay the full $50,000 plus all other expenses. There certainly are affluent and privileged international families that are able to do so without difficulty. However, for many others, sending their child off to an expensive but prestigious university like Cornell means scrapping everything in hopes of providing a better education and future. The split persists even at Cornell, where students receive the same education but live in different worlds — some have the luxury of paying $2,000 per month rent to live in a studio apartment at 312 College Ave. while most others don’t.

There has also been severe criticism surrounding isolationist international groups such as Asian cliques that roam around Olin and Uris Libraries. Many argue that these international cliques form an unhealthy culture of disintegration with the rest of the American community. Why attend school in the United States if you’re going to hang out with people from your country, they ask. While I agree that these segregated groups aren’t necessarily good, one should think about why they form before jumping to conclusions. When placed under the category of “non-resident alien”, it is much easier to associate with the group of people who face similar challenges. Also, different international students place different emphases on their Cornell education. While some prefer to network with the rest of the American community, others focus on the academics.

International students, who were legitimately admitted through Cornell’s admissions process, should not be shunned for the different values they have, even if not necessarily in line with those of Americans. While there are geographic and administrative barriers that can separate international students from others, I hope that these students can be accepted for who they are and appreciated for the diversity they bring to Cornell.


DongYeon (Margaret) Lee is a freshman in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected]. Here, There and Everywhere appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.