Bringing It Home – The Saint Rose Blog

Getting a Visa for College: My Long Journey to Graduate School

By Ridina Shakya G’19

Growing up in Kathmandu, Nepal, Ridina Shakya G’19 was interested in analyzing business activities. She traveled halfway around the world in 2017, ready to start her MBA in the United States. She was successfully admitted into the Huether School of Business with scholarships, but found that she faced an arduous journey of another type: waiting for the U.S. government to approve her full-time student status. Here’s what she learned along the way.

I came to the U.S. in 2016 with my husband, who is a physics Ph.D. student at the University at Albany.

After preparing for the TOEFL and GRE exams, I researched MBA programs. The Saint Rose website had detailed information. After requesting more, I received a prompt response from Cris Murray, assistant vice president for graduate recruitment and enrollment, who invited me to visit. My husband and I went to her office the next day, and she had everything ready for my queries. She even invited a representative from the Center for International Programs. On the same day, I met with the MBA program coordinator.

I said, “I think I have found the best college, with the program I am looking for.” It took me a couple of months to find the right college – just a few blocks from my apartment.

Applying for a change of status

I was accepted into the MBA program and received a graduate assistantship for Fall semester 2017. I also was offered a scholarship based on my undergraduate GPA. But I could not start either of those things because the visa status I entered the U.S. with would not allow me to study and work. I applied for the change of status to full-time student through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Cris provided all the documents.

Students with Leah Shapiro, assistant director of International Students

International students at Saint Rose with Leah Shapiro, assistant director of International Students

I learned the process would take 90 to 120 days. I needed financial documents from Nepal. That took a couple of weeks. The College’s Center for International Programs reviewed them, and I mailed the application to the USCIS in March 2017.

And then I waited. It was the longest I had ever waited for anything in my life. After the semester started, I’d look through my apartment window and mumble, “The classrooms are right across the street and the graduate admissions office is just two blocks away, where is the letter from the USCIS?”

The waiting game

I excitedly waited for the letter from USCIS. I met with John Dion, a Saint Rose marketing professor and my advisor. I registered for three courses based on his suggestions. I was ready.

Soon, the excitement turned to frustration, as I had no response from USCIS. It was my morning ritual to check online, and “the application is processing” popped up every time.

Three international students

Saint Rose is home to students from many countries

I struggled to find ways to spend my time. For the first couple of months, I watched movies or used social media. I was new, so I didn’t have any friends with whom I could hang out. This was the time I missed my family the most. But whenever I talked to them, I’d pretend everything was fine.

Then, I realized “This is not how I should spend my days!” I was afraid I would go into a depression. Cris had a great idea: I could take a few classes, as long as I wasn’t full time. In Fall 2017, I took two business classes. It got me connected with the school and students.
I called USCIS and had to wait two hours – just to hear that my application was still processing. The College’s Center for International Programs contacted USCIS. That also was fruitless.

The Fall semester ended. I was optimistic I could start as a full-time student in Spring 2018. Still, nothing. I wondered “Am I missing documents? Am I about to get rejected for the status change?”

I became hopeless, but my husband motivated me to have patience.

Finally, the letter I had waited for

In mid-January 2018, I visited USCIS in Albany. The immigration officer informed me that I should get a response any time. On January 31, as was my morning ritual, I checked my application status online. After a full nine months, there was something different. It said, “The letter has been mailed to you. Please follow the directions stated in the letter.” Finally, some hope. But I had already missed the start of the Spring semester.

The letter arrived on February 2, 2018. It said the application was missing financial documents. I looked at the copies of documents I had sent. Everything was included.

But I quickly gathered them and sent them again. On February 21, 2018, I was finally approved for the change of status to full-time student, after an 11-month wait.

Photo of International Center

The Center for International Programs at Saint Rose

Worth the wait

Today, I am a full-time graduate student, enjoying my classes and my graduate assistantship. I find the education system quite different from what I am used to. In my country, we go through lots of memorization, but here, things are practical. I like doing presentations and research projects, and I enjoy the team work.

I feel that the government takes more time to handle issues related to immigrants. I don’t feel we are treated badly, but when we visit offices like USCIS or the Department of Motor Vehicles, background checks require an extremely long wait.

Still, I feel blessed that I chose Saint Rose for my graduate studies. The College was helpful throughout my whole process. It has helped me grow. I learned to have patience in things I do.

Someday, my parents will be proud of me when I graduate from Saint Rose, and it will have been worth the journey.

 

Support for international students far from home
The Saint Rose International Student Center is available to help with questions regarding F-1 student immigration, visa processing and interviews, as well as work permits for Curricular Practical Training before graduation and Optional Practical Training after graduation. The dedicated staff keeps up with the regulations and issues that may affect our international students. Please visit the office at 429 Western Avenue, call 518-485-3950, write to international@strose.edu, or read more here.

Students from overseas should also turn to their academic advisors for assistance identifying their educational goals, providing guidelines for their academic success and assistance finishing their program in a timely manner.

The graduate admissions staff is also available to help with questions about admissions, applications and scholarships.

Students should also call on their international peers for great advice and emotional support. For contacts, try the Center for International Programs.

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