Financial Pressure

Ten of my respondents identified that financial concern is a continuing severe problem. A social justice student in stated:

A big problem is financial concern. I did not get any financial support from my department.

I lived on the edge each day with so much fear and stress. I have so many things to worry.

Do I have enough money to pay the rent? Do I have money to buy the food, books, clothes, and groceries, etc.? My stress level increased as the bills piled up. I felt so stressed sometimes that I wanted to buy a one-way ticket to go back to China without finishing my doctoral study here. But I cannot even afford the airfare to return to China. (Participant 19)

An industrial engineering student talked about his anxiety and frustration because of the sudden financial nightmare:

I received full financial support in the United States from my advisor. But my boss told me she will be unable to support me any longer at the beginning of this semester due to the budget cut. This resulted in a sudden financial nightmare. My temper was bad and my emotion was very unstable. I would be quiet and suddenly yell at others. I would feel that it was easy for me to lose my temper, and I also felt blue, worried, and stressed. I tried my best to seek assistantships from other professors but in vain. I calculated all the money I have, which is barely enough to go through this semester, let alone one more. So, I decided to graduate earlier. This means I will take four courses this semester and finish up my dissertation by this summer. I buried myself between these two responsibilities. It is very hard to go through this financial struggle. (Participant 10)

Unable to secure an assistantship or scholarship, respondents in current study either choose to finish their study as soon as possible, or seek an off-campus job, even if it is illegal to do so. An electrical engineering student talked about his gloomy experiences:

I did not get any financial support in the first year when I got here. I slept on the floor of my friend’s room, looking out of the window into the gray sky, my mind [went] a total blank.

My luggage remained packed, because I was planning on moving out in 2 days. I had been searching for a job around the campus and had even walked as many blocks as I could, asking whether they need a waiter, [but] all in vain. They all needed a work permit, which I do not have. I had also searched for a cheap place to live, but the rent was so high that I could not afford. All the money I had in my pocket was not even for two weeks’ rent. Besides, I had to pay the tuition for the coming semester. I desperately need money. This desperate need for money kept torturing me until I located a job in a local Chinese restaurant. However, the restaurant owner paid me very low, because he knew I am an illegal worker. (Participant 7)

Due to limited financial resources, many Chinese students live a modest life. They often fail to purchase adequate health and automobile insurance. Consequently, they are in a desperate situation in the event of illness or accident. A political science student said:

I tried to save each penny for the tuition and rent. I only eat vegetables and rice to avoid expensive food that has more balanced nutrition. Studies, daily stress, and malnutrition eventually resulted in my sickness. If I get a serious disease without medical insurance in the United States, it will be just like the end of world for me. (Participant 3)

Financial problems were of the greatest concern for Chinese students. Respondents in my study all indicated that they chose a university based on how much financial aid they could receive rather than on the academic reputation of the particular institution. When asked what they would do if their current programs did not have any financial support, twelve of them responded that they would consider changing their majors to another where financial aid was available, regardless of the relevance of the new major to their personal research interests or background. A chemistry student said:

How much I envy American students who can freely choose the major they liked. As a Chinese international student, all I can do is to choose those major wherever financial aid is available. I cannot change to a major like electrical engineering or computer science which I like so much, because I cannot find any financial support in those majors. Money is everything here. (Participant 18)

A bioengineering student supported:

Life here is really hard, especially for Chinese students. The only way out here is to get and secure the financial aid from the department or the professors. For most of the Chinese students, the availability of the financial support rather than the academic reputation is the first concern while choosing American universities and programs to study. In many cases, people come and go simply because of the financial aid. (Participant 17)

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