Far from home: international students face unique challenges

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Getting accepted to BYU is an accomplishment for many college students, but international students who get accepted consider it an accomplishment for a few additional reasons.

There are 1,336 international students enrolled at BYU out of 33,363 total students, according to university spokesperson Todd Hollingshead. He explained the acceptance rate for international students is very similar to that of U.S. applicants.

“This year, the domestic rate was 53 percent, and for international students, it was 51.4 percent,” Hollingshead said.

International students applying to BYU must complete the same initial five-step application as U.S. students, but their application requires several additional steps, according to the International Admissions online application.

“As far as timelines go, international students have the same deadlines for when the application opens and when the application is due,” Hollingshead said.

One of these additional steps is taking an English proficiency exam and submitting the score to BYU, according to the international admissions website. BYU accepts several different kinds of English proficiency exams, including the Test of English as a Foreign Language, known as TOEFL.

Elba Kapllani, a BYU junior in the linguistics program, is from Albania and said she took the TOEFL before applying to BYU.

“The TOEFL is a four-hour exam that tests your proficiency in English. It’s all speaking, listening, writing and reading, and it’s all comprehensive,” Kapllani said. “It’s pretty much lectures or lessons as you would experience here at BYU.”

International students must also take the ACT or SAT. Kapllani said the exams can be challenging for international students, but they are important because BYU holds international students to the same academic standards as American students.

“The more proficient we are, the easier it is for us to study and do homework,” Kapllani said. “In classes here, we are treated the same as everyone else and we have the same grading criteria.”

BYU finance graduate Enrico Curzola from Italy said he applied to BYU as a transfer student with more than 24 credits, which waived his SAT or ACT requirement.

Curzola also said he paid around $300 to have his credits authenticated, translated, shipped and reviewed.

“That was probably the biggest pain by far,” Curzola said. “You really want to make sure you get all the credit recognition as possible.”

International students must complete an additional financial verification section after taking the required exams, according to Kapllani.

“The last financial verification section is the hardest of them all,” Kapllani said. “It’s the one that usually makes people want to give up.”

BYU International Services Director Sam Brown said students are required by law to prove their financial ability to attend BYU. The current total cost of attendance for LDS students is $18,120 and $23,420 for non-LDS students.

Many students aren’t in a position to provide that financial proof, so they seek funding from sponsors or their parents, according to Brown.

Kapllani said some students have supportive, generous sponsors while others have strict sponsors who will withdraw funds if the student doesn’t maintain high academic standards.

“It’s a lot of pressure on us,” Kapllani said. “It can be pretty hard, and that stress can actually get in the way of our performance at school. I’m sure we could all perform better than we do if we didn’t feel so stressed about everything.” 

Brown said students must deposit $4,000 into a BYU escrow account after receiving admission to the school in addition to proving the cost of attendance.

“The deposit is there for international students in case there is an emergency,” Brown said. “The money set aside gets them a ticket (home), and it almost acts like a safety net.”

Kapllani said she is glad BYU has put financial requirements in place even though they can be challenging.

“They want to make sure you can keep going and you have support,” Kapllani said. “They don’t want to bring you all the way from your country just to see you fail financially.”

All international students must also purchase a student visa that allows them to be in the U.S., according to the international services page.

Curzola said in order to apply for a student visa, applicants must appear before a U.S. Department of State consulate.

“You have an interview where you pretty much say why you’re going to America, why you’re attending the American university, how long you plan on staying and so forth,” Curzola said. “Once you’re cleared and you get your visa, you’re ready to go.”

Brown said student visas require international students to work on campus, unless an off-campus job is directly related to their major. Students also cannot work more than 20 hours per week.

“If they go even one minute over 20 hours, their student visa status can be terminated,” Brown said.

Beyond the financial and visa requirements, international students also experience other mental and emotional challenges, according to Brown.

“Every student experiences homesickness, but that may be more exacerbated because international students are so far away from home, and the culture here is so different from the culture in their home country,” Brown said. “Anything domestic students go through, you add on other layers for international students.”

Larissa Kranewitter-Call is a senior in the linguistics program with a minor in digital humanities. Kranewitter-Call is from Germany and said she hasn’t been home for nearly five years.

“I feel like I’m losing my roots a little bit because I haven’t been home at all,” Kranewitter-Call said. “I’m not trunky all the time because I’m used to it now, but it’s expensive to go home.”

Kranewitter-Call said she remembers a certain Christmas day when she spent the entire day alone.

“That was the most miserable experience of my whole life,” Kranewitter-Call said. “I was super homesick that day.”

Kapllani said it’s difficult for international students because they don’t have a consistent group of friends like many American students do.

“A lot of us feel lonely, and we go through trials too, but we don’t have family 45 minutes away. Our family is far away and we try not to talk to them about our problems, because we don’t want them to worry,” Kapllani said. “Even though we adapt with the culture, we often feel like the culture takes us for granted and doesn’t adapt back to us.”

Kapllani said there are a number of resources available for international students on campus, including International Student Services, a counseling office for struggling international students, various clubs and a writing lab specially for non-native English speakers.

“I love BYU. It’s shaped not just my education, but it’s shaped my life experiences, too. Even the challenges and financial problems have helped me to become more responsible,” Kapllani said. “I love all my teachers because they’ve been so inspiring.”

Curzola said he feels grateful for the chance he had to attend BYU because it helped him grow both spiritually and academically.

“Overall it was a great experience,” Curzola said. “There are great people at BYU, I received a great education and it gives you great opportunities after you graduate.”

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