Job opportunities, visa problems, and immigration concerns are issues that are rarely addressed in the literature on international student development. The findings of this study, however, revealed that job opportunities, visa problems, and immigration concerns were identified as the greatest concern. Students who were interviewed reported feeling lots of restraints due to their visa status. Major restraints included the limited number of working hours; the restriction to having an on-campus job, even if the student faced an urgent financial emergency; the limitations in applying for student loans because students are neither citizens nor permanent residents of the United States; the travel restrictions forbidding students return to China to visit their parents, husbands, or wives because they might not be able to obtain a visa to come back to the United States; the difficulties associated with changing visas if students decide to remain in the United States to pursue other life goals after graduation; and the very limited opportunities for foreign students to switch their student visas in order to become permanent residents of the United
States. Students identified chronic stress from “marginal status” as a daily struggle for most Chinese international students.
Interview transcripts also indicated that Chinese students felt American visa policies placed them in a role conflict. They must pretend to be dedicated students who are legally in the United States only temporarily to pursue their advanced degrees, yet they secretly want to remain in the United States after their graduation and find a way, though it is not guaranteed, to acquire permanent resident status or US citizenship. Despite the great frustration and restraints associated with their F1 visa status, most students felt that their frustrating lifestyle seemed less painful compared to millions of Chinese youths who remained in China, because they cannot even get entrance visas from US embassies.
Regarding return to China for future employment or other life goals, strong uncertainty prevailed among Chinese students in this study. If the initial Chinese student migration to America was push oriented, entrance into American society certainly increased the impact of pull factors in America in reducing student return. For question 12, most Chinese students tended to want to remain in the United States to pursue other life goals after graduation (M = 4.05, SD = 1.12). Interview participants reported their return expectations in the short term were low. Major reasons students identified accounting for their non-return were not surprisingly the same as what had pulled them here: better living and working conditions, higher salary, better research facilities, greater career development opportunities, and personal freedom. At the same time, they did mention that their long-term intentions of staying in America were not high either. Most of them preferred returning to China after they had spent several years working internationally or secured an American “green card.” Their strong roots in China, cultural alienation in America, marginal status, and China’s booming economy all contribute their possible return. Due to their delayed return, most of them were not very concerned about their job opportunities in China. On the question 12, future employment opportunities in China were not a significant stressor (M = 2.13, SD = 1.22) compared to job opportunities in the United States (M = 4.01, SD = 1.23).
Dating or marriage is an issue that is rarely addressed in the literature on international students. Students in this study regarded dating and marriage as very important in their cross-cultural experiences. Regarding romantic relationships, students felt powerless in the face of factors such as distance, long separations, limited numbers of candidates, excessively high expectations, and academic introverted personalities, all of which decrease the possibility of successful matches. In addition, the interview transcripts showed single students encountered more dating problems and suffered more psychological distress about their future marriage possibilities than married students did.
This finding confirmed the results of the survey questionnaire which showed single students encountered more dating problems and suffered more psychological distress about their future marriage possibilities (M = 3.50, SD = 1.38) than married students did (M = 1.73, SD = 0.99). Gender showed significant influences as well, with female students feeling more pressure from dating and marriage than male students did. Male students tended to be more academically oriented and socially isolated, dating little and failing to take initiatives when it came to relationships.
In addition, a great concern of participants who were interviewed was that long distances and long-term separations might result in the breakup of their relationships or marriages. Because a high percentage of Chinese international students expressed that the breakup of a relationship or marriage would bring them lots of emotional stress, it is important to pay attention to the particular emotional needs these students experience.
Financial difficulties give students a lot of restraints socially and academically. Socially, they have to live a frugal life. Academically, financial aid limits students’ choices, and they have to give the highest priority to the assistantships rather than personal interests when it comes to choosing universities or majors. Students’ personal experiences confirm the findings of previous studies (Wan 2001; Situ et al. 1995). Marginal syndrome, accompanied by loneliness and longing for home and identity, is pervasive among Chinese students and makes their sojourn painful.
Homesickness and loneliness were overwhelmingly identified as a problem by the interview participants. Homesickness and loneliness were identified in students’ comments when they referred to missing familiar aspects of Chinese culture, missing friends and family in China, and losing familiar support systems. According to participants, homesickness and loneliness were particularly intense when students encountered problems or were sick.
Although homesickness appeared to be a widespread problem among Chinese international students, it is unclear whether homesickness and loneliness were directly related to their psychological depression or anxiety. On the question one from the questionnaire (How often is each of the following factors making you feel depressed or stressed in United States?), homesickness and loneliness were identified as the least stressor to students (M = 2.48, SD = 1.33).