A Different Take on the Economy

Last night, by sheer coincidence, I learned firsthand about a group of people who have been severely impacted by the international economic crisis that you hardly ever hear about:

International students.

A friend of mine hosted a dinner last night to celebrate Eid, the end of the Ramadan fast. He invited two African students who he had met earlier in the day at his mosque. Ibrahim is from Ghana, and Abdul is from Kenya. Both spoke near-fluent English and were clearly very intelligent.

As the night progressed, we learned that due to the economy, both of their scholarships had been revoked. Ibrahim was actually taking a bus to New York later that night to work for a semester before transferring to a different university, a state school that would pay for his education. Abdul has been working day and night in his university’s cafeteria, taking time off only to go to class, but even that opportunity was ending at the end of the semester. He’ll be returning to Kenya in December.

Both of them are stuck in nasty catch-22s. Abdul can’t switch to local community colleges because he actually has too many college credits; those colleges won’t let him transfer and immediately graduate. So he’d have to change his major, which requires him to get a new student visa, which is apparently a very difficult process. So he can’t afford to stay at his current university until he graduates, but he can’t transfer either. And he can’t get a higher-paying job to pay the bills because his visa would be revoked immediately.

The saddest part about all of this is that the two of them came to America to get degrees so they’d have a chance at getting good, progressive jobs in their own countries after college. The types of degrees–engineering and finance–that can help their countries move forward. So after all the struggle and money that it took to get out here in the first place, settle in, learn for a few semesters and years, they’re returning home without degrees. A little more worldly, perhaps, but essentially empty handed.

The whole conversation left me feeling helpless. It was good to break bread with people who traveled halfway across the world to improve themselves and their countries, but it was disheartening to hear how their dreams, which were once etched in stone, had been washed away by the sands of the economic crisis. And it’s not just them. I’m sure there are tons of international students who are struggling and perhaps caught in similar situations.  I wish them the best, I offer them hope, and for their sake I hope the world economy improves to the point that they can renew their scholarships and complete their degrees. They deserve that.

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