by Saeko Oishi
The clock reads 11:00 A.M. but the room is empty; empty except for an anxious and excited woman wearing a business casual suit and heels to match. As she is setting the tables for the International Coffee Hour, she checks the clock and looks out at the hall for any international students to join her. As I walk into the room, the aroma of fresh roasted coffee fills the air. Charisma Bartlett, APA Pre-doctoral Psychology Intern at UC Irvine, continues to prepare the refreshments and greet the students as they walk into the room. “Oh no, we’re out of napkins. Would you like to come with me to get some from Starbucks?” I followed her outside the counseling center as she explained to me the effects the budget cuts have directly had on the programs offered to the international students at UCI. Charisma’s enthusiasm for the program despite the minor obstacles caused by the budget cut was evident through her genuine smile. “The budget we get to work with weekly got decreased to half of what we used to get… We’re working with what we have though.” For example, to compensate for the budget cuts from the programs and events offered for international students, the students themselves have had to prepare food for each other rather than having it provided to the students.
The UCI budget cut has affected almost all aspects of student life at UCI including the classes offered, programs and organizations. It has affected everyone and anyone whether they are a student, a T.A., or a professor in one way or another. The International Club, which is supported by the International Center, is no exception; The International Club is an organization that has generally been overlooked by the typical UCI student. However, the budget cut greatly affects these international and exchange students, as their tuition is raised unexpectedly on top of their traveling and housing expenses which are an investment in itself. The overall number of international students has not changed much, with a total of 1,891 international students for the fall quarter and China as the top represented country with 452 students. After China, there are 325 students from Korea, 226 students from India and 179 students from Taiwan. As we returned back to the Counseling office, the room was filled with international students from all over the world, but each student with one thing in common, a look of excitement and enthusiasm. Each student seemed to be struggling with one common issue, public transportation. As an international student, there isn’t much reason to obtain a California driver’s license since their stay is intended for only a year or two. However, with the budget cuts, the accessibility of public transportation has decreased drastically within the past year.
“In Irvine, it’s almost impossible to get around anywhere without a car. I’ve taken the bus to nearby locations but I didn’t realize how far of a walk it is to get from point to point after you get off the bus. The budget cuts have decreased the number of buses running on a regular basis as well so the time you have to wait if you miss a certain time is ridiculous. You basically need a car or need to bum a ride from a friend on a regular basis to do anything, it’s very inconvenient,” Anna*, an international student from Australia said. Anna* has already been here a year and plans to stay another year to study here at UCI as a Business Econ major. As Anna* shared her struggles with her transportation issue, others in the room all nodded their heads in agreement. The tuition this year for international students has gone from $7,800 per quarter in 2004 to $10,800 this year. In addition to the fee increase, international students have additional concerns such as public transportation, how the currency exchange of their home country is affected by the economy, and the changes that international students have had to make for their stay abroad.
The main source for public transportation in Orange County, the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), has had a $9 million cut for 2008-2009 transit operations. They are also expecting likely cuts or delays to an additional $12.5 million of transit operating revenue. In general, Orange County is experiencing significantly lower sales tax revenues that support transit operations and due to the downfall of the economy, the overall outlook for the OCTA budget is not looking too promising in the future. Housing is not so much an issue compared to transportation since International Students enrolling at UC Irvine to complete a degree program can apply for housing through the same channels as students from the U.S. and have guaranteed on-campus housing as long as they intend to study at UCI for at least one full academic year.
The conversation switches to a lighter topic as one of the members brings up the Thanksgiving dinner organized by the International Center which will take place next week, specifically for international students. “I want to try pumpkin pie and turkey! I have never tried pumpkin pie or turkey before!” Minami, a Japanese exchange student exclaims as her eyes light up and gets excited at the thought of being part of a Thanksgiving dinner. The room is now filled with a few local UCI students and ten to 15 international students from all over the world including a few students from Australia, Iran, and Korea as well as a couple from France. Although the number of students who come to study from abroad has stayed somewhat consistent in the past dew years, the struggles that these students have had to face are evident.
Another student striving to enjoy his time here at UCI despite the obstacles the budget cuts have presented is Jin Cho, a second year international student from Korea who is studying International Studies and hopes to graduate next year. In 2004, Cho transferred to UC Irvine from a community college in Santa Barbara but later had to return to Korea to serve in the Korean military for two years. “It is a requirement in Korea to join the military when you are 18 or 19 unless you are injured. I decided to take the opportunity to study abroad because I wanted to try something different. I don’t plan on going back to Korea, I want to stay here in the U.S. after I graduate”. He returned to the U.S. this year after serving in the military and was astonished at the changes he has had to make to compensate for the effects of the budget cut. “In addition to the tuition increase, the currency exchange between the Korean and U.S. currency is also affected by the economy and public transportation is less accessible as well. Compared to when I was here at UCI in 2004, everyday life has gotten a lot harder for me.” Although Jin had a car in 2004, the economy and budget cut would not allow for him to do the same this time around and therefore resorts to public transportation. “I used to study at Gateway or the science library during the week when I first came here in 2004, but now with the budget cuts, the libraries close earlier and it’s a lot harder for me to just find a place to study with friends. Plus the fact that I don’t drive now really limits me”. When I asked him about whether he has ever participated in a protest on campus, he replied, “I’ve wanted to, but I’m scared they will take down my name and kick me out or something.” Jin is even considering a minor rather than getting a major for International Studies to graduate earlier. It is not an easy process but he plans to get his visa sometime soon in order to find a job and work in the U.S. after he graduates; although the way things are looking, this may have to wait a while.
Charisma emphasizes the fact that many international students have been here for more than a year and have had to learn to adapt to a completely different lifestyle. On top of the fact that these students have had to restart a new life as a student in a different country, the adjustment and changes that they have had to make in accordance with the budget cut and tuition hikes have led several international students to reconsider their time studying abroad. Others have found that despite these obstacles, their experience studying abroad is an opportunity worth sacrificing for as these students continue to live out their UCI experience while making necessary changes in response to the budget cuts.