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Price of an International Education


Ball Bearings met with three people to discuss the costs of an international education for students coming to the United States to study

Each year, the number of international students paying large amounts of money to study in the United States increases. About 975,000 international students studied at U.S. colleges and universities in 2014-15, according to Institute of International Education. The previous year, only about 886,000 international students studied in the United States. The U.S. is the most popular country for international students studying abroad. It is also one of the most expensive options.

In the U.S., the average cost to study at a public university is a little over $22,000 per year. Studying at a private university costs a little over $32,000 per year. This makes the U.S. the third most expensive country to study in, just after Singapore, ranked second, and Australia, ranked first. As part of the average costs, the U.S. claims first for the highest tuition prices, according to a Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation study in 2014. There are also many more costs not included in this study, such as the costs of the application, book fees, travel, and even emotional costs. So why exactly do so many international students pay such a large amount of money to study in America?

Ball Bearings met with three people in order to gain opinions and insight pertaining to the costs of an international education: Mary Theresa Seig, director of the Intensive English Institute and associate professor of English at Ball State University, Jiaxuan Shang, a student from Wuhan, China, and Maria Skd, a student from Minsk, Belarus.

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Ball Bearings: How do you believe international students benefit from studying here in the United States? What are the disadvantages?

Mary Theresa Seig: I think that any kind of acculturation, where someone learns to function in another culture, helps them to understand not only what they value and what’s important to them, but also helps them to see that there are other ways to think, and to live a life. You learn about yourself by learning, by coming up against a different cultural setting which allows you to question yourself and mature in a way that is hard to do if you hadn’t had that experience. The disadvantage, of course, is that acculturation is a complex, difficult process that is taxing. It’s psychologically difficult, it’s emotionally difficult, but I think it’s a worthwhile process to go through.    

Jiaxuan Shang: I think that first, improving English is a benefit. In China we learn English too, but mostly it was taught by Chinese teachers, and here we can communicate with native speakers. We can learn real English, not by Chinese, Chinglish. We come here, and we can communicate with the students, teachers, and professors who come from all over the world, so that’s a benefit. The disadvantage is they’re far away from family, so that makes it kind of hard. The second disadvantage is that the language is a problem. We couldn’t understand the knowledge as quick as native speakers.     

Maria Skd: I’m doing political science, and that’s a really cool chance to have a different approach to international relations. You get a whole bunch of different facts that you don’t really cover that much back home. Then you have a really cool chance to share your perspective with the people here, and it’s rare that they’ve met someone from Eastern European countries, let alone from Belarus. They have absolutely no clue what that is, so you promote your country, and you actually make people know it exists. I have not really noticed any disadvantages so far. It might be the food. It’s kind of manageable, but not the best you can imagine. Then you have to come back home at some point, and you have to experience what they call like a reverse culture shock. Once you’ve seen how it can be, and you come back and you’re like, well what’s next?

BB: Why do you believe it is hard for international students to afford college in America? What makes it easier?

MTS: It’s more expensive actually, for international students to study in the U.S. than it is for domestic students. Tuition is typically three times higher. I don’t know what makes it easier, but I do know that many international students who come to the U.S., are sponsored by someone in their family, or their government. That represents a commitment made by those governments, by those foundations, by those families as to the value of a U.S. education. They see it as investment in the future of their student.

JS: Many American students complain about that question. The tuition is expensive, the textbooks are expensive. All the stuff is very expensive. Also we have to convert the currency. So, one dollar here you can buy some snacks, but in China you can buy more.     

MS: It’s expensive. It costs you a lot of money here. The rest is actually really easy. I mean, the actual studying process is not that hard. In Belarus, they want you to kind of know way more. Here, they mainly focus on some general ideas. Back in Belarus they want you to know everything in detail and you end up being lost. You have to put way more effort into your studies, and the knowledge is not necessarily better and deeper, though I hope it is.

BB: What are your thoughts on the availability of scholarships and financial aid for international students looking to study here?

MTS: In many countries they have scholarships and financial aid within the countries which they use to help the students study in the U.S., or Britain, or Australia, or other countries. We have some scholarships here, and we have some help.

JS: We can collect a lot of information everywhere from posters, or emails, or something like that. The opportunities we see are the same as American students, but applying there will be kind of difficult.

MS: That’s actually one of the benefits of living in a Soviet country. All the capitalism centers think we’re poor people who haven’t seen anything in this life. They try to provide us with as many opportunities to see the world as possible. I pretty much feel we have way more of them than you guys here do. It’s way easier for me to travel, and not pay anything for it. It’s easier to get a degree, and get accepted from a European University, and get a scholarship than to get the American one.

BB: Some international students will pay to study in America for only one semester, and others will pay for a whole year or more. What do you believe is the most effective decision regarding money, and why?

MTS: I don’t think it’s a question of getting your money’s worth, I think it’s a question of what your goals are. I think that if you can only afford to study abroad for a semester, and that’s all you can do, then you should do that. There is a deeper acculturation that occurs as a person studies in a country longer. It’s an issue of what your ultimate goal is, and then you should plan accordingly.

JS: If you stay here for one year, the time is longer, and you will get more from it with the real American culture. If you decide to go to America, that means you want to know it. If you stay here longer, the effect will be better. You can test more American food, and you can travel more places; that’s the biggest benefit.  

MS: Not to pay any, which is exactly what I did. I would say it’s much more productive to improve your English back home, and then just really come and study here. I used to think half a year, or one semester, is pretty much enough to get the experience, but time flies. It takes you months to actually meet the people, and adjust to what you have. Half a year or more wouldn’t be too much. I feel like that the perfect time to study.

BB: What impact does this cost have on international students following their graduation?

MTS: Many of the international students who come, not all of them, have funding from their government, or funding from a private foundation, or funding from their family, or some other organization. Often those organizations don’t require the students to necessarily pay back the money, but they do require a period of time when those students can contribute to their own country.

JS: I don’t have a lot of problems with this, because I just came here supported by my family. I need to get a degree. The only problem I have is it’s too expensive. And because my degree is accounting, I need to learn some tax laws. So maybe I will face some problems in working, because some knowledge cannot be reached so easily. There are also visa issues. The Chinese visa is five years, so if I study for seven years I need to reapply.

MS: I am doing a program funded by the U.S. Department of State, which results in a two-year, back home residence requirement, so you cannot come to the U.S. for work for two years. I don’t have to pay my program back, but what I have to do though is deal with how it is hard to convert the courses to Belarus universities.

BB: Aside from financial costs, what does an international education cost pertaining to emotions and mentality?

MTS: It’s incredibly difficult to study abroad, especially to earn a degree abroad. Some of the emotional toll comes from being away from family, friends, and familiarity. Learning to live and function in a new culture takes self-awareness, patience, and the ability to accept that you will make mistakes. It helps you to further your understanding of human nature and of yourself. There is also the issue of being an international student that’s representing a country that not maybe not as popular in this country, and so you have to deal with people’s attitudes here, just as we have to deal with attitudes about the U.S. when we study abroad. When students return home, there can also be some difficulty in readjusting back to home cultures. So, all of those things make it really, really difficult to study in another country.

JS: I have an uncle, aunt and a cousin here, so I have some relatives here. It helps reduce my homesickness. The people here are very nice, and they are very friendly. Sometimes you think you trouble others, but they don’t think so.

MS: It was absolutely easy for me. Emotionally, I’m kind of living in a paradise here. I was actually surprised with how I left that all behind. I came for the first week, and I was constantly texting my friends, and there was the time gap. It was an online life, instead of an offline one. Then you switch to the real offline experience you can have here, and you cannot get when you go back home. That was really easy. It’s really easy to get to know people here.

BB: Why do you think the money international students put into studying in the U.S. is worth it?

MTS: I think that international students, investing in themselves, and coming here to study, enriches their lives, but it also enriches our lives immeasurably. It helps us. It helps domestic students who can’t study abroad, to get a glimpse of other perspectives, and other cultures. If I could change one thing about U.S. education, I would say that every college student should have to study abroad, at least one semester, so that they could go through that process, and broaden their thinking. I think that the money that’s spent to study in other countries, whether it’s U.S. students going abroad or international students coming here, I think it’s always good money.   

JS: It’s worth what you get, and the cost. If what you learn in America is something you couldn’t learn in your country about the culture, then it’s worth it. If you study hard here, be very positive, communicate with others, and learn something you couldn’t buy with money, it’s worth it. If you think it is too expensive to study abroad, or in America, you should study hard to make it worth it. It depends on your behavior.
MS: For me you have to really understand what you’re doing if you are doing that, and what are you doing that for. I pretty much feel there are some people who will end up at a random school in the U.S. because there is the story that American education is really awesome, and it is, but it still depends. To study in the U.S. doesn’t make your education perfect. If you know why you are doing that, it’s worth it, because you have the opportunity. The country itself doesn’t make your diploma worth it.

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