Students from across the seas encounter obvious struggles such as language barriers and transportation issues. Similar to domestic students in the U.S., international students also struggle with efficient housing accommodations. Despite the uncertainty and fear of many issues before coming to the states, the appeal of studying in the U.S. steadily entices international students across the globe to study abroad each academic year.
According to a U.S. News report, the number of international students in the U.S. steadily declined during the strict enforcement of COVID-19 travel restrictions. The total number of international students studying at U.S universities dropped by 15%. In 2019-2020, the total stood at 1,075,496, while the next academic school year (2020-2021) saw 914,095 students.
A new Institute of International Education (IIE) Open Doors report suggests that a rebound is approaching, as the numbers of international students for the fall 2021 semester show a 68% increase in international student enrollments and an overall increase of 4% of students enrolled.
At the University of Mississippi alone, 866 international students decided to call Oxford, Mississippi, their home for fall 2021 — according to the Ole Miss International Student and Scholar Services data.
In the 2019-2020 school year, the University of Mississippi housed 609 international students with non-immigrant status. During the 2018-2019 school year, Ole Miss had 766 students from other countries.
International student struggles are many — fear of fraud or inadequate housing when arriving, the anxiety of how to gain friends in a new country, not knowing when and where to get groceries, furniture, advice and currency differences are only a few challenges these students face.
Despite the difficult circumstances an international student may face when arriving at Ole Miss, numbers continue to rise.
This phenomenon prompts a question to the overall culture at Ole Miss: How will students, faculty and community members assist students who come from other countries?
Michael Johanson, former director for International Programs at Ole Miss, spoke briefly about the boldness international students bring as they enter a new country and the feelings of alienation that could come along with it. For housing issues specifically, Johanson said the overall feeling of inclusivity or the culture in which the students encounter when arriving in the U.S. can lead to housing problems.
“I think it’s all part of a comfort level for students who are living here,” Johanson said. “I sort of see housing as just living here. It’s broader than the building itself.”
Johanson’s position as director of International Programs lasted for 10 years. The retired director spoke on the overall implications international students face. The feeling of being an outsider or the inability to effectively communicate with American students leaves international students wondering where to go and who to talk to.
Most students who come to the university have never seen an apartment building or room, leaving the student to decipher which one best suits them. For international students, an American leasing agreement can be too much to decipher through as well.
Italian international student Thomas Cilloni shared how his experience from switching apartment complexes due to roommate issues and a cockroach infestation prompted him to realize he didn’t understand the complexities of an American leasing agreement.
“On the one hand, I like one of my roommates, but on the other, I’m having a difficult relationship,” Cilloni said. “And as an international student, I am not sure how breaking housing contracts work. I’m quite conflicted.”
Cilloni said that he and one of his roommates have differences, making his home life extremely uncomfortable and that his Ph.D. studies in engineering science have become more burdensome.
“It becomes uncomfortable to be in those walls — to live in an uncomfortable environment — so sleep quality is affected,” he said. “I often feel anxious or worried like something bad is about to happen.”
While these issues can be no different for domestic students, the problem arises when international students have no one else but the people around them to talk to. What do they do with these complaints, and what happens after a complaint is filed?
The Office of Global Engagement at Ole Miss works tirelessly to hear complaints from students and serve as a helping hand. For prospective students, the office has resources, such as websites with apartment listings and connecting students with each other.
“We have a webpage with links to housing options on campus, we discuss options in our pre-arrival materials and we are available for any questions about housing options,” senior International Officer Blair McElroy said. “In addition, we make connections between new and current students so that new students can learn from their peers about the options in Oxford.”
The office also made it very clear that international students struggle with housing just as domestic students do. Some students may like an apartment complex, while others do not. McElroy stated that it is “truly unique to each student.”
For other students living off-campus, some home conditions can become unbearable.
South Korean international student Juyoun Jang spoke about the insufficient housing accommodations at Campus Creek. Campus Creek, now called The Quarter at Oxford, is an apartment complex roughly five minutes away from Ole Miss’s campus.
Jang lives in an apartment with a family, who she claims is disruptive and inconsiderate of her studies. For Jang, the disruption of her roommates affects her ability to pursue her Ph.D. degree in English and be on the job market.
After speaking with a student attorney from UM’s low-income housing clinic and with the property manager at The Quarters, Jang’s issue is seemingly still unresolved.
Jang claims The Quarters are refusing to move the roommates out of the apartment and suggests she move without giving her compensation.
“The legal representative of Campus Creek told her (the student attorney) that the management team offered me a transfer,” Jang said. “However, the management team offered me a transfer fee waiver. I asked them to pay me for moving my things, but the management team declined. However, the student attorney wrote conditions just in case I chose a transfer. For instance, Campuscreek has to move my things if I choose to transfer, etc.”
Jang expressed frustration on Facebook and took the issue to anyone who would hear her case. In addition, she feels as if she and possibly other international students are being discriminated against and disregarded.
“I think many students like me — especially international students — have been exposed to vulnerable situations, and Campus Creek (The Quarters) is taking advantage of me because I am not American,” Jang said.
The Office of Global Engagement advocates that students who feel discriminated against should discuss the issue with a trusted person on or off-campus. McElroy also said that the office connects students with appropriate help.
“As a company standard, Tailwind Management does not comment publicly regarding resident matters,” Regional Manager Mallory Kelley said via email. “Our management firm took over management of Campus Creek (now, Quarters at Oxford) on Nov. 20, 2021, and have only recently been made aware of the issue described below. We are working to resolve this matter with the resident in the most equitable manner possible.”
Housing issues are one of many struggles students face in general, however, international students must juggle adapting to a new country and possible isolation.
The University of Mississippi, the Office of Global Engagement and International Programs work together to bridge the gap between American and international students through events and clubs such as the International and American Student Alliance and Cultural Connections Club.
“Feel free to get outside of your community,” Johanson said. “I’ve never been to an event that’s outside of my tribe or community all my life where I haven’t been welcomed.”