Expand your perspective

by Eszter Hargittai on September 21, 2014

The very insightful Ethan Zuckerman recently gave a convocation speech at his alma mater, Williams College. While his specific angle was not about this, I read it as a nice call for the importance of international students on campus, and of studying abroad (among other things).

One of the things I’ve learned in my research is that it’s much easier to pay attention to people than to places. If there’s someone you care about who’s from Haiti, if you’ve had the chance to travel there and meet people from Haiti, you’ll watch the news differently. You’ll have a connection to that place, a context for a story you hear. The events will be more real to you because Haiti is more real to you through the people you know there.

It is important though that international student recruitment not be restricted to international students who can pay full tuition. Personally, I remain extremely grateful to Smith College for its generous support of international student financial aid. When I was applying to US colleges from Hungary in the early 90s, it was the only school that came even close to offering enough aid to allow me to study in the US.

By the way, if you haven’t read Ethan’s book Rewire, you should. It’s a quick and very pleasant read with lots of interesting material and important insights on just how not connected we are in meaningful ways despite infrastructural connections.



Ronan(rf) 09.21.14 at 5:37 pm

Out of interest (not because I’m looking to apply) can international students to US universities apply to the general funding scheme (ie you get free tuition + 19k, or whatever it might be, over 5 years ..) or are there entirely seperate funding schemes for domestic and foreign students ?


Hix 09.21.14 at 6:38 pm

There might be more issues concerning the other direction :-), even so tuition would be free in most cases.


hix 09.21.14 at 6:53 pm

Love this one (is that the same University that hands out Macbooks in their “elite program” or a different new york one?):


Eszter Hargittai 09.21.14 at 8:55 pm

Ronan(rf) – I don’t know what funding scheme that is. Generally, international students at US universities have restrictions on type of financial aid. It is pretty much completely institution-dependent. That is, you are not eligible for state-funded aid (federal loans, for example). State universities are generally out. The following is a non-obvious example in that vein, but it’s interesting to note. I had gotten into Cornell, but I had applied to one of its state schools and consequently was offered zero financial aid resulting in zero chance of my going there.


Eszter Hargittai 09.21.14 at 8:58 pm

Hix – Another nice thing about Smith was that the financial aid you were receiving to go to Smith was applied similarly when you decided to study abroad on one of its four official programs (Geneva, Paris, Hamburg, Florence). Accordingly, I got lots of help when I was studying in Geneva. (This may not be an obvious translation of costs and funds since the tuition is not as much as one would pay were one to enroll directly in a school in Europe, but the Smith program offered a lot of extras so this is how they dealt with it.)


maidhc 09.21.14 at 10:01 pm

There used to be a concept that funding international students to study at US universities was a good long-term investment, because over time it would produce a governing elite in the home countries that was sympathetic to the US. The USSR did much the same thing for the promotion of communism.


adam.smith 09.21.14 at 11:09 pm

@Ronan–at least for lower-income folks, the financial aid packages for most schools rely heavily on government programs only available to US residents–pell grants, subsidized student loans. So schools have to actually spend more money to give similar type of financial aid to international students.
For state schools it’s even more tricky, because international students cannot get residency and won’t qualify for in-state tuition.

My sense is that there is a trend among top schools to recognize the importance of international students not just in graduate programs (where we’re heavily represented already) but also in undergrad. I know that Northwestern, where Ezther is now and I went for grad school, is improving financial aid for international students steadily, I believe (as usual) trying to keep up with the Jone–I mean the Harvardses who have been doing that for longer.


Abbe Faria 09.22.14 at 12:25 am

I’m not sure what the proposal is but the US does pretty well as it is: visa holders are 1/3 of PhDs, with some disciplines like engineering and economics majority overseas, and the numbers are trending upwards. I’m not sure it’s an incredibly important issue to do anything about, left to itself it’s entirely possible in 15-20 years PhDs will be majority overseas anyways.

The humanities will always be mostly domestic, because of cultural biases, but some technical disciplines have trouble recruiting domestic students. If funding was opened up to a level playing field the domestic skill base would be cleaned out.


Eszter Hargittai 09.22.14 at 3:31 am

Abbe Faria – I was mainly focusing my comments on the undergraduate experience, which concerns a much larger population than graduate students and a more diverse group in many ways including in terms of where people end up after (types of jobs, communities, etc.).


Meredith 09.22.14 at 4:49 am

Eszter, thank you. A terrific convocation address, well worthy of reception beyond Williams’ 2000 undergraduates and assembled faculty and administrators. I am not sure many here know what convocation is at a small liberal arts college in the U.S., but, oh well…. Funny how American discourse about “higher education” often focuses more on undergrads than grads, than does discourse from elsewhere.

Let’s try to imagine this. Children not, but still, 17-22 year olds, so hardly adults, any of them. Convocation is for all, but the focus of the event(s) is on the seniors, getting ready to leave (once they have finished their most intense of four years yet). Each of these woman/man children is wondrous, truly. They are inheriting what they’re inheriting, and they are the future. They are our investment and our legacy.

Now that Convocation is past (several weeks after classes have been underway), we will all soon settle into the fall and winter of our studies. Fatigue, over-commitments, debilitating head-colds, romantic break-ups of the young in progress: it is all underway so fast.

Indulge me: This is the day which the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.


Abbe Faria 09.22.14 at 11:18 am

I don’t really see what you can do for undergrads. 4-5% of the bachelor degree population are overseas students, but that’s of 18m people in college or about 40% of the young. I don’t know what your target rate is, but there’s just so many people involved that even shifting that by a percent will cost billions.


hix 09.22.14 at 1:42 pm

My “love this one” was ironic, since the way NYU does it minimices exposure to the host country culture in any thinkable way and keeps charging US tuition. Those transplants are no good, even when they are no closed system as the NYU one appears to be. If they would just send their students to a local university, they would have to pay no tuition and might learn something about the local culture. ***3 This was aleady the case before tuition was abolished for locals and (speculating here) i dont think this did depend on full reciprocity. At least the German ones do offer lots of courses in English. Those are also attended by local students. Thats a problem in some other countries, where foreign studens with limited local language knowledge are often isolated in specific English language courses. Ive been told the University im attending is activly trying to get some US students and has trouble finding any. Alas a couple they got, they also rather wished they had not*1 *2.

*1 Fearing this is a general problem here, not just some random event, when 18-21 year old Americans get exposed to the lax alcohol regulation/culture from one day to another.

**2 There might also be some good and some bad reasons why this specific institution is having more trouble than others attracting good US students.

***3 Granted there is a bigger real risk some might end up clinically depressive for a while or at least with no credits to show afterwards, but im sure there is a cheaper and better way than those transplants to deal with adapation anxiety etc.. .

Should add, im by no means someone that supports whats happending at the moment here, where applications without terms abroad are thrown in the trashbox by many employers. Its a new social class discrimination mechanism in large parts imo. Just getting the strong impression there is a huge cultural/structual problem, not just a monetary one that discourage US students from going abroad.


Ronan(rf) 09.22.14 at 4:15 pm

thanks Eszter and adam.smith – that clears it up (I was thinking more of Grad students than undergrads initially, the undergrad aspect didnt realy occur to me)


Meredith 09.23.14 at 2:55 am

adam.smith, the wealthier private colleges and universities face a challenge when seeking to have more international undergraduates: reaching out to students from beyond the wealthy cosmopolitan classes outside the U.S. Attempts to do this may be thwarted by the cultural and social differences in practices of reporting wealth. This, even before you get to the question of whether imposing some debt (however minimal) on students may be a good thing (the whole “skin in the game argument,” which isn’t entirely silly when Sarah Palin isn’t making it to justify stomping on poor people).

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