Tang: On achieving the ‘American dream’ in 2015

Tina Tang, Columnist

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Over the summer, I mentioned to a colleague that I, after a few too many trips to the Social Security Administration office, have finally gotten my social security number. “Oh, congratulations!” My colleague responded. “You’re a U.S. citizen now!”

Actually, getting a social security number simply means that I have the pleasure of paying federal and state income tax in a country where I’m often made to feel unwelcome. My friends and I often joke about getting a “green card marriage” just to make finding a job in America easier, but in fact, being an international student at Northwestern comes with its own unique set of challenges.

Like most international students at NU, I did not make the decision to attend college in the United States lightly. Ultimately, I decided the opportunities that I could receive here were worth the occasional cultural shock and financial burden placed on my family. The “American dream” paints an idealistic picture of America as the land of opportunities, but the longer I’ve been here, the more I realize that the future I have envisioned for myself in America is more of a dream than a reality. Compared to other foreigners in this country, I recognize that I am at an incredibly privileged position, with many resources at my disposal. Harsh immigration policies leave little room for upward mobility and make it almost impossible for low-skilled workers to achieve the so-called “American dream.”

As I scroll through the opportunities for internships and grants through Northwestern Career Advancement’s weekly emails, I notice that most of these offers are only available to citizens.  Employers are under the misconception that they have to complete mountains of paperwork just to hire an international student for a summer internship, when in reality that burden is placed on the student.  From discussions with other international students, I notice that companies rarely give qualified candidates the chance for even an interview in order for students to explain their status before their application is rejected.

The pressure to succeed is already high at an academically competitive school like NU, but this pressure is even more urgent for international students. Since employers are less likely to hire us as it is, international students often feel we need to outperform our American peers just to receive the same consideration in an application pool. Additionally, financial aid or merit-based aid opportunities are incredibly limited for international students, and the university hardly offers any financial support, even in the form of work-study jobs. Because of this, international students often feel like they’re disappointing their families if they’re unable to secure a job post-graduation after all they’ve been through.

The summer before my junior year of high school, I came to NU for the first time to attend a summer program. It was the first time I had really been on a college campus, and I fell in love with the school and knew without a doubt that it was where I wanted to be. However, by applying early decision, I wasn’t able to apply for any sort of financial aid. I know that I am in an incredibly fortunate position that my parents are able to afford the steep cost of attending NU. Yet, I feel incredibly guilty at times when I think that the money my parents are spending on my education may be at the cost of my brother’s education or their own cushy retirement. They have sacrificed so much for me to attend NU, and they have been nothing but constantly loving and supportive. They have never wanted anything more from me than to be happy. I refuse to let myself disappoint them.

Families are frequently a student’s core support system, but for an international student, that support system is usually too far away. International students are often forced to juggle the pressure to succeed with the administrative obstacles of working in America, all while being away from their family, and at times this burden comes at the peril of our mental health. For an international student like me, the “American dream” is, at this point, nothing more than a myth.

Tina Tang is a Weinberg junior. She can be reached at tinatang2017@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.