By Darryl Sweeper, Jr., MA
In an effort to shed light on the experiences of international students studying health psychology, the SfHP Student Council’s Diversity Committee interviewed 5 graduate students from different countries of origin. To encourage honesty, we have kept the identities of these students anonymous. Below are their unedited responses. We hope that these perspectives will highlight the incredible tenacity of these graduate students, as well as provide insight into how SfHP and graduate programs in health psychology can better support international students. Check back next week for part two of the three part series.
What is it like to be an international student?
4th Year Clinical Psychology PsyD Student from Jamaica – “There are both advantages and disadvantages to being an international student. For starters, the diversity element is a great conversation starter and has its advantages in settings that are looking to expand its diversity. It is also nice to travel home to a place where others go on vacation. However, it is difficult not being able to work while in school, especially at my age. Another disadvantage are the limited number of APA internship sites that require U.S. citizenship in order to apply.”
3rd Year Clinical Psychology PsyD Student from Bulgaria – “As an international student, I have encountered several difficulties. First, I had to write in a different language than my primary language, and this is stress inducing to me. Help from school was probably the most efficient way to learn and cope with this. Second, as an international student, I do not have the opportunity to work. This has been impacting my livelihood in the USA. Third, in this country, one almost must have a car to get to places, and I cannot afford one which has made my journey more complicated.”
2nd Year Clinical Mental Health Counseling Masters Student from Kenya – “It’s not easy. The expectations are high, and the pressure is always on. I often find myself looking at education as the lifeline to my existence in the United states. This was messaging programmed early and often by my family.”
1st Year School Psychology PhD Student from Canada – “Aside from financial issues, there are several problems one may face, such as 2nd language barrier, understanding trends and the culture (depending on where you live in the US) , at times I have felt it hard to blend into the new culture and environment. That said, the one thing I love about US is mix-cultural society; you are more likely to meet people who have different race, ethics, and traditions. But if you’re not financially strong then I would be hesitant to suggest someone to come here because being an International Student it’s required to buy health insurance, and (depending on where you live) public transport could be non-existent or a waste of time so you have to buy car and then pay for car & driving insurance as well.
2nd Year Pediatric Psychology PhD Student from China – “I came to the states when I started undergraduate, and this is my ninth year here. So far, my experience has mostly been positive. There are and will definitely be hurtles and barriers along the way. Looking back, I would mostly describe them as inconveniences. There are many legal procedures required for an international student to meet in order to have the basic essentials, such as applying for SSN before you are allowed to work on campus, waiting until the start day on your I-20 to apply for driver’s license, getting signature from the international center every year if you travel outside the states (and Canada, and Mexico). Oftentimes, we also play the role of an educator to others in regards to our circumstances. Sometimes it is easy, and sometimes it is not. I am naturally an organizer and worrier (probably not the best combo). A lot of time, legal procedure and paperwork processing are out of our control once we submit them. With that, there are a lot of waiting and unknowns. I have experienced potential employer during my post-bach year rejected me because of their unfamiliarity of the situation. I have also experienced employer welcomed me despite my limitation. If I were, to sum up my experience as an international student, I would say it is constantly planning, worrying, waiting, and planning again (did I tell you that I am a worrier?). But the good news is that most HR or international centers are helpful in assisting you navigating through the system. Sometimes it does feel like I am alone by myself with this weight on my shoulders that no one else can understand. But it is also such a relief when you reach out to a fellow international student and shared the successes and struggles.”
What influenced your decision to study psychology in America?
4th Year Clinical Psychology PsyD Student from Jamaica – “There were disparities in the education system and my family saw opportunity in receiving an education in the U.S., so I began attending boarding school since the 8th grade. Having already been here from middle school and high school, it only seemed right to continue my education here.”
3rd Year Clinical Psychology PsyD Student from Bulgaria – “The reputation of American schools and the good quality of education.”
2nd Year Clinical Mental Health Counseling Masters Student from Kenya – “My passion for families and the family unit… Looking at the rising rate of divorce and issues such as substance abuse which rock the family structure. I dedicated my effort to learn about how I can help either repair relationships or teach others to start over with better information on how to build healthy relationships.”
1st Year School Psychology PhD Student from Canada – “Upon applying for schools, I was admitted into a Canada Psychological Association (CPA) accredited PsyD program, but I had aspirations to work/live in the US. I called Licensure boards in various states to seek the requirements and difference in the CPA vs. APA accreditation. To my knowledge, many of the states have different requirements. I read a forum that stated, if one planned to live in the US for at least five years or more after licensure, it would be less hassle to sense to apply to school for APA accreditation instead of explain what the CPA is and proving its equivalence to APA accreditation.”
2nd Year Pediatric Psychology PhD Student from China – “ I have always wanted to be a psychologist since I was in elementary school. Along the way, with personal experience and others’ experience, it only made it clearer that this is what I want to pursue. I went to a middle/high school where many students attend undergraduate abroad, which influenced me to look into colleges in the states.”