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 the final installment of the three part series.
If applicable, what were the barriers you faced applying for graduate school?
3rd Year Clinical Psychology Psy.D. student from Bulgaria – “Mainly the English exam (TOEFL).”
2nd Year Clinical Mental Health Counseling Masters student from Kenya – “Finances finances finances. School is unreasonably expensive and honestly is the only reason I cannot pursue a doctoral degree, Ph.D. or PsyD.”
1st Year School Psychology Ph.D. student from Canada – “Deciding between CPA and APA accredited programs. Also, figuring where to live. Its easier living in a bigger city like New York or Boston that have multiple modes of public transportation but somewhere like Jacksonville, FL or Charlotte, NC may only have buses which are not always reliable or time friendly.”
2nd Year Pediatric Psychology Ph.D. student from China – “ I had both experience applying for master and doctoral programs. Some programs are only open to US citizens, which limit international students’ options. Other barriers include finance (application fees, lodging if it is not provided during interview, travel, moving cost).”
If applicable, what are the barriers you face while in graduate school? First year? Current year? APA Internship? APA Consortium?
4th Year Clinical Psychology Psy.D. student from Jamaica – “First and foremost, some APA sites require U.S. citizenship in order to apply, which has been extremely disappointing given there are several sites that I am interested in but unable to apply for this reason. Another barrier is my goal of returning home to work. While some sites might admire my dedication and plan to return to my home country, some might not find it ideal to spend time training an intern who is going to leave the country. I have not overtly been rejected because of this reason, but I also would not know if I have been.”
3rd Year Clinical Psychology Psy.D. student from Bulgaria – “In my first year, my biggest challenge was English writing, but with the help of the ARC [Academic Resource Center], I was able to improve. Other challenges are that I cannot be involved in other student activities, such as a research assistant position because I am not allowed to work.”
1st Year School Psychology Ph.D. student from Canada – “In my first year, I was very lonely. I found it difficult to meet people that shared my same interest. I felt like many of my classmates only wanted to talk and stress about school, which made me more stressful. I used dating apps and played intramurals sports to meet people. It was slow and difficult at first, but I slowly created a community of friends.”
2nd Year Pediatric Psychology Ph.D. student from China – “I am going to share my experience as an undergraduate, too if it is okay. Tuition is at out-of-state rate, and we are not eligible for typical financial aid. Once you get your SSN, you are only limited to work on campus, unless you apply for CPT. During the time you await your OPT after graduating undergraduate, you are not allowed to work or volunteer. And these are opportunities a US citizen often uses to become more financially independent. I considered myself being very privileged because of my family support, but I cannot stress enough how finance can really limit someone’s opportunity. And this financial limitation sometimes stems from our citizenship, not our ability.
Right now, in graduate school, language is something very salient to me. I don’t consider it as a barrier for me, but potentially a disadvantage to my patients/clients. I feel obligated to be aware of how my language impacts their care and come up solutions to offset that disadvantage. In terms of internship, I wish there are more role models to look up to. I was lucky enough to have someone in my program to talk to, in preparation for my internship application in a year and half. From what I have researched, international students are not able to apply to positions that are solely federally funded. The term has to be less than 365 days, and for my program, I have to pay out-of-state tuition and fees out of pocket for full credits in order to maintain my student status while on internship.”