May 18-24, 2001
Back Issues
Waters' mission runs deep
Two graduates honored for their service to humanity
Student aids the homeless

Mellon winner redefines "Jim Crow" era

Pre-med student shares his passion for music
Fast-track grad driven to help his family
Student leads effort to install Braille on Lawn room doors
Creative recycling: Students convert crate into studio
Lawson lives richly
Can you go home again? Issues facing international students
Education delayed but not denied
Weaver finds election laws discriminatory
Quilter gets A+
Students to go abroad on Fulbright scholarships
Weddle will research Peruvian women
Graduate rich in lessons learned
Anthony defender of public good
Affinnih plays her cards strategically
After earning degree in two years, graduate going for two more
Student develops new sign language system
Student trio pushes for late-night joe
Astari Daenuwy and Samer Saadeh
Matt Kelly
Astari Daenuwy and Samer Saadeh

Can you go home again? Issues facing international students

By Jessica Tyree

International students face graduation having passed through wrenching separations from their families and difficult feelings of cultural isolation. They
have overcome these trials and thrived far from home. But now they must choose between that home and their adopted land.

There is much to consider. Parents’ wishes, career goals and socio-political realities sometimes block the road home, while staying in the U.S. entails struggles with immigration red tape. The choice is often years in the making.

“When I first came here, I wasn’t sure if I would go home after I graduated,” said Astari Daenuwy, a foreign affairs and Asian studies major from Indonesia. “I couldn’t visit home for a year-and-a-half. My first priority was to adjust.”

The sense of cultural distance from American peers often leads international students to stick close to one another. Daenuwy befriended students of many ethnicities but at times clung to fellow Indonesians.

“If I go a week without speaking Indonesian I feel strange,” she said. “When I’m uncomfortable with Americans, I know there are certain people I can go to. They’re my home base.”

In coming years, she would rely on that common understanding as the economic and political situation in Indonesia worsened. “When you open the paper and read about riots and killings, it hurts,” Daenuwy said.

Although she misses home, she leans toward staying in the U.S. for a few years while her country regains its footing. “I do foresee a better future for Indonesia, but I’m not sure when that will happen,” she said.

Edgar Yeh Chu Chan, an electrical engineering major from Ghana, considered similar issues in his decision. “The economy back home is horrible,” he said. “There’s no future there.”

Although he initially struggled with homesickness, Chan always intended to stay in America. “My parents wanted me to start my life here. I’m used to [the United States] now and I want to stay.”

Catalina Ocampo, a comparative literature major from Colombia, decided to continue her education. “I am at a point right now where I don’t have enough tools to do anything significant back home.” She will enter Brown University as a graduate student in the fall to pursue her dream of becoming a professor.

Economics and foreign affairs major Samer Saadeh was born in Lebanon but moved to Switzerland 10 years ago. He plans to return to Europe after working in the U.S. for a short time with a specific purpose in mind.

“I feel that you can get responsibility and experience more quickly here,” he said. “In America, young people are valued more than in Europe, where seniority is very important.”

Staying in the United States to work, however, involves navigating through a complicated legal process.

Undergraduate international students enter the country on an F-1 visa, which allows for a set period of schooling and 12 months of optional “practical training,” paid work in the United States that is related to the student’s field of study.

Once practical training is complete, non-citizens must receive employer sponsorship for an H-1B work visa, which lasts up to six years.

While large technology companies in places such as Silicon Valley have lobbied to have H-1B quotas increased to fill employment gaps, smaller companies sometimes balk at hiring foreign nationals. Less familiar with the process, they fear entanglement with immigration laws and fees.

Chan says that he does not sense any discrimination. But Saadeh, whose job with Dell Computers fell through, said, “Employers are hesitant to hire foreigners. You feel it the first time you talk to them.”

Daenuwy, who had a work-study job with U.Va. Conference Services for two years, feels prepared to enter the American workforce full-time. “I have learned about American work ethics and values,” she said. “Here, for example, being respectful to your elders does not necessarily mean not letting your thoughts be known.”

“I know that I can’t just take these [Americanized] ways and force them on people,” said Daenuwy, who plans to go home in five years. “Maybe that’s why I don’t want to leave yet.”

Not all aspects of the American working world are so appealing. Saadeh dislikes the growing culture of job insecurity, where 30-year employees can suddenly be laid off when the company gets downsized. After two years here, he hopes to return to Europe, “where there is more respect for the workers,” he said.

When all is said and done, the decision to stay or go ultimately comes down to more emotional considerations, to places in the heart unmoved by questions of money and career.

“No matter how long I live here, I will never feel at home like I do in Europe,” Saadeh said.

Daenuwy has similar feelings. “My ideal place to settle down would be Indonesia. My family is there and I want my children to know them,” she said.

“Living in the United States has made my own country more exotic to me,” she added. “When you’re taken out of your home you see [it with] an outsider’s vision. You see beautiful things you’ve taken for granted.”


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