Up to two years ago, Seattle University did not provide any kind of financial aid for international students. Now there is a limited amount of funds that the University has invested for this purpose. The problem? International students in need of this aid are not being told it exists.
For international students like Daisuke Uesaki, Seattle University's lack of financial support left him with no choice but to give up on his study abroad experience and go back home.
Uesaki, 23, applied to graduate schools in the United States to continue his studies. He already has a BA in Environmental Law from Sophia University in Tokyo. However, his Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores did not meet the needed requirements. Eventually he was accepted by Seattle University as a transfer student, allowing him to take classes to improve his English.
Just like any other international student applying for an American Visa, Uesaki had to hand in a bank statement to the Embassy, proving that he or his family had enough funds to pay for one year of tuition.
But when Uesaki's father suffered from a heart disease back in November, his father had to stop going to work in order to undergo heart surgery. Even though the surgery was successful, there's now a very probable chance of his father quitting his work company.
"My father was afraid of losing all the savings he had by paying for my tuitions" Uesaki says, "He told me to come back to Japan"
On January 2009, Uesaki went to SU's Financial Services Office and explained his situation, hoping the school would provide him with some sort of aid. But he was faced with the same unhelpful answer many international students are given.
"They told me that they cannot do anything for me, and told me to try scholarships outside" Uesaki explains "But my problem was urgent and it takes a lot of time to get scholarships from other institutions. In addition, there were not many scholarship aids for international students even outside of campus"
Director of Financial Services Janet Cantelon admits that they have little to offer when international students ask for help. Their best sources, she says, include looking for private scholarships or applying for loans back in their home countries. But the financial aid form they introduced two years ago was not for everyone.
"The form was originally created for new students, but we are also considering continuing students who find themselves in unexpected financial need" explains Cantelon.
The form was introduced at the beginning of 2008's fall quarter. Not all of the funds have been used up, which could be due to the fact that not many people know about it. Watanabe Dale, international student advisor at SU, wasn't aware that such a form existed until very recently.
"I don't know much about it, so I spoke with Student Financial Services" he explained. It was only until he asked Financial Services about the form that they revealed a form for international students to apply for financial aid was available.
Cantelon says the form will still be available next year. But in the case of Manilla Chounlamountri, an international student from Laos, she found out about the financial form too late.
When Manilla turned to the school for help, Financial Services gave the usual response: she'd have a better shot with non-SU sponsored scholarships or applying for a bank loan.
Manilla managed to get a loan from CitiBank in order to continue her sophomore year. The school provided her with a list of banks that allow international students to take out loans. Manilla agreed to this because she figured she'd only use the loan for a year. In the meantime she'd look for more scholarships and turn to her family for more aid.
Unfortunately, Manilla's family in Laos is feeling the effects of the American economic crisis. The decrease of the value of the American dollar has decreased the value of the kip, Lao's national currency. As a result, the Choulamountri's family business, which involves transferring goods to mines set up by foreigners, has not met the expected income.
"I'm just going to have to take out loans for my remaining college years, since I haven't really heard back from scholarships. It's scary because I don't know if I'll have a job by the time I graduate, so it's a lot of stress knowing I'm borrowing money" says Manilla.
Manilla's situation is not uncommon, since most international students are not frequent visitors of the Financial Services Office due to the little support the school can give them. But Cantelon believes this lack of communication could also be cultural.
"It depends on where the student comes from; some of them are not used to talking about economic hardships in the family" Says Cantelon "Usually we get international students referred to us by professors or faculty members that international students feel more comfortable talking to"
That was Ji Eun Kim's case. Ji Eun Kim came to SU from South Korea, and is currently coursing her sophomore year but doesn't really know if she'll be able to continue in the school. She believes the lack of communication between international students and financial services is both cultural and lack of information from the Financial Services Office.
"In South Korea, economic hardship in the family is sometimes seen as shameful, so they don't talk about it." Explains Ji Eun "But I don't think the school understands that sometimes we are ignorant about how American education works. When I applied to America I wasn't even thinking about whether they'd give me money or not, I was more worried about whether they'd accept me at all."
The economic crisis has also affected South Korea, creating difficulties for Ji Eun's family. The value of their national currency has decreased and now Ji Eun's education is too much for the family.
"In my currency, I pay double the amount of what tuition is worth right now" says Ji Eun.
This February, South Korean President Lee Myung Bak declared the nation to be in an "emergency economic rescue mode", with money being invested in tax cuts and helping companies in financial problems.
Seattle University prides itself in the amount of international students that come to the school per year, but for Ji Eun, that appreciation for diversity is not reflected in their Financial Services Office. It wasn't until she talked to some of her professors that Ji Eun decided to write a letter explaining her circumstances.
"In that letter I just explained my sorrow and situation. I want to continue studying here, but the school is not helping me find money and my family can't afford it" She says.
When Financial Services received the letter back in March 2008, alongside three recommendation letters from professors, they told Ji Eun about the newly implemented financial form. They told her to fill it out and attach her letter to it. Ji Eun did receive some money after filling out the form, but she knows it's not enough and that she'll have to look into scholarships.
"The one thing I feel they need to do for us international students is start a SU sponsored scholarship. Help us continue in the school" However, she feels the school is investing its money in other areas instead.
"I see how becoming D1 is beneficial for the school, and for the athlete students. But I don't see any effort being made to make sure international students can continue attending the school"
Students like Chinese sophomore Lin Lin, don't understand why the school isn't showing a more urgent reaction to the situation international students are in.
When Lin Lin was asked what she thinks the school should do for international students, she mentioned Housing is another way in which the school can help.
"Allowing international students to say for free during Winter Break would be a great help. It's harder for us to go back home because it's so far away, and it's not like we can easily find another place to stay besides the dorms" says Lin.
Though not widely known, changes have been taking place regarding international students. International students applying to the school can now be granted the same scholarships American students are granted based on academic achievement. Before, international students could only be considered for a scholarship designed specifically for them.
Cantelon says the admissions office is interested in reaching out to international students, and that representatives of the school have made visits to other countries looking for prospective students.
Another way in which SU plans to help new international students is by sending out their acceptance decisions earlier, so students have the chance to assess their financial situation and let the school know about it before they have to submit their Visa financial statement.
Help for incoming international students might help schools maintain their diversity rate, but continuing students are feeling the pressure of the economic crisis hitting their doors back home.
Noory Kim, a transfer student, is feeling the same disadvantages as international students even though she has an American citizenship.
"My dad works as a college professor in South Korea, he's international, so the increase in the price of the dollar makes it harder for his salary to help pay for my education" says Noory.
As a transfer, Noory has about the same amount of chances of getting scholarships from the school as international students. But she knows that her American citizenship opens a greater possibility of financial help.
The economic crisis in America does not create a prosperous future for international students. The little aid that has been given so far could decrease because American schools will have too much in their hands with American citizen's financial needs.
A News Time November 2008 report advised international students to study at home for the time being, but for students that are already in their second or third year that's a tough decision to make. Not only is money at stake, but several students get attached to their schools and their lives here. Yet when they encounter financial hardships several doors are closed right at their faces.
If Universities like Seattle University wish to show their commitment to diversity, international students are definitely expecting a change in financial aid policies. What so far has remained as a shady and obscure topic, where international students aren't aware of what's available to them, needs to become a more accessible program. Aid that makes international students know the school wants them to continue being part of their student body.