A Foreign Student in a Country of Possibility
Publication date: September 14, 2021
She Writes Press
International students and immigrants have been the secret ingredient in America’s recipe for global success. America Calling shares one immigrant’s story, a tale that reflects millions more, and shows us why preventing the world’s best and brightest from seeking the American Dream will put this country’s future in jeopardy.
Growing up in middle-class India, Rajika Bhandari has seen generations of her family look westward, where an American education means status and success. But she resists the lure of America because those who left never return; they all become flies trapped in honey in a land of opportunity. As a young woman, however, she finds herself heading to a US university to study, following her heart and a relationship.
When that relationship ends and she fails in her attempt to move back to India as a foreign-educated woman, she returns to the US and finds herself in a job where the personal is political and professional: she is immersed in the lives of international students who come to America from over 200 countries, the universities that attract them, and the tangled web of immigration that a student must navigate.
An unflinching and insightful narrative that explores the global appeal of a Made in America education that is a bridge to America’s successful past and to its future, America Calling is both a deeply personal story of Bhandari’s search for her place and voice, and an incisive analysis of America’s relationship with the rest of the world through the most powerful tool of diplomacy: education. At a time of growing nationalism, a turning inward, and fear of the “other,” America Calling is ultimately a call to action to keep America’s borders and minds open.
Why I wrote this book...
My journey as an international student began in 1992, just like that of the thousands of students who arrive at the doorstep of America each fall. I arrived from India, one of 439,000 international students in America that year. Back then, as a newly arrived doctoral student in psychology, I could never have imagined that many years later I would study with the objectivity of a detached researcher the very migration that I had been a part of. That I would one day be immersed in the current debates that surround foreign students and the value of immigrants, the value of learning from outsiders—arguments and issues that are at once personal, for I have lived through many of them, yet are political, with implications for our nation and the world.
Speaking to everyday Americans from North Carolina to California to New York and everywhere in between, I’ve come to realize that most Americans don't understand the central role that international students—especially those who become immigrants—play in the arc of American prosperity and success. Yet international students are the invisible and unacknowledged drivers of the massive engine of American higher education that depends on them, bringing in $45 billion to the U.S. economy each year and helping to create 400,000 jobs.
When I began to write this book, I was afraid that my experiences would be dated. My own experience as a foreign student in the U.S. had begun almost a quarter century ago. Yet, as I spoke to student after student while researching this book, I was struck by how much has remained the same, especially a student and family’s aspiration for a better education as the ticket to a successful future and the learning and growth that comes from expanding ones geographic and mental boundaries. But the struggles have also remained the same: the academic, social and cultural challenges on campus and beyond; the struggle to survive financially; the feeling of not being able to breathe, of suffocation and fear when navigating a maze of immigration policies as a “non-resident alien”; of purportedly being among America’s best and brightest, yet having one’s existence and presence questioned every step of the way.
Even though international students are part of the fabric of American higher education and the history of immigrant America, their stories are rarely told. Why do they need America, and why does America need them? This is a book about one such story—my story and my personal journey as an international student, as a woman, and as an immigrant.