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Obama's immigration reform for international students – time to celebrate?

There has been a lot of buzz over the past few days regarding President Obama’s immigration reform that impacts international student visas and their ability to stay and work in the United States after they graduate. This post attempts to clarify the implications of this reform and will help you determine – is it time to celebrate or is there still more work to be done before you can pack your bags and head to the plane. 

Photo credit: Darren Johnson
The facts
It’s best to hear about the reform directly from the source – see President Obama’s speech here.

“Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us?” he asked. “Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs, businesses, and industries right here in America?”

According to President Obama's speech, it seems like a promising time for international students from around the globe to have the opportunity to stay in the United States and pursue a career there. Is that the case?

The president’s executive action provides specific benefits relevant to international students. We have summarized them here for you in an easy to understand manner. The key points are:

  1. Expanding Optional Practical Training (OPT) – students will be able to stay in the US and work for longer periods of time for work that is considered professional training in their field of study (for example - lawyers who graduate from an LLM degree can work for a law firm in the US). Currently, OPT is for a 12 month period. The intent is to extend that timeframe, though it has yet to be determined by how long.
  2. STEM authorizations – students from the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics will be able to stay for even longer periods in the US for OPT. Currently, STEM graduates can get a 17 month extension on their OPT. The intent is to extend that timeframe, though it has yet to be determined by how long.
  3. Spouses of H1B visa holders will have an easier time extending their visas if the H1B holder is in the process of applying to be a lawful permanent resident (LPR).
  4. Entrepreneurs - if you are thinking of building a start-up company or know of a company in the US that would like to hire you, you may be in luck. The executive action seeks to "expand immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria for creating jobs, attracting investment, and generating revenue in the U.S."
Photo credit: "Uscapitolindaylight" by Kmccoy - en.wikipedia
If all of these terms related to US immigration seem unclear to you, go ahead and read our post on student visas to the United States

To summarize, the bottom line is positive for people from around the globe who want to study in the United States. Over the past decades, the US has not established an immigration policy that seeks to bring the best and the brightest to study and then work there. This is a step in that direction.

Only time will tell how much of this reform will be implemented, but you can be cautiously optimistic and continue to follow the developments as it is implemented.
To see how other people are impacted and to hear about learn from their experiences with immigration to the US, visit

5 Ways Going to University in France Will Surprise You

Guest post by: Andrea Bouchaud

As the home to many world-renowned universities as well as being a cultural, linguistic and historical hub–bub, France is a natural choice for study abroad students. But before you pack your suitcase, there are a couple of things you need to know about going to university in France. Let’s take a look at 5 Ways Going to study in France Will Surprise You:

Photo Credit: Benh LIEU SONG

  1. Grades: The grading system for French universities is based off of twenty possible earned points, not one hundred, but that doesn’t mean that you can earn a 20/20 as your highest grade. French grades are best explained by the well-known vignette of The Divine Code. The Divine Code explains that 20 is reserved for God (or King in some versions), 19 for professors. No student gets a 20 - ever. It’s not you; it’s the system. Instead of 20, students aim for a 15. At most French universities, 15% of your grade is calculated on your participation, oral presentations, weekly summaries, and the devoir sur table (an in class assignment, usually an essay). The remaining 85% is a huge test taken at the end of the semester. Depending upon your study abroad program, you may be exempt from this test.
  2. Class Structure and Credits: The average class credit at a French University ranges from three to five credits. French college classes are worth more credits because they are divided into two sections or séances that meet from one to three hours per week. These 2 séances are the cours magistral (commonly known as CM) or lecture and the travaux dirigés (commonly known as TD) or lab.
  3. College Environment: The French college environment is just like French culture: formal. Students refer to professors as monsieur, madame or mademoiselle- no last name. As French professors are not always PhD prepared, you don’t refer to them as doctor or ask them their education level - this is rude. Another thing that is a no-no in a French classroom is constant questions. A French college classroom is one of learning from the professor, not one of interaction. Have questions for your French professor?  Ask them after class! The typical French professor doesn’t share his/her email with students so after class discussion is the way to go. Respect for the professor and classroom is crucial in a French university and adds to the formal environment. French students are expected to not interrupt the learning process so they bring notebooks to class, not a laptop. You’ll also notice that no cell phones buzz, no food eaten during class, no whispered conversations, and no leaving class. This formal college environment is a very important part of the French college experience. But it’s not just in the classroom. The lack of a university book store and sports teams also solidify the formal learning environment of a French university.
  4. Information Technology: The typical French student doesn’t rely on the internet as the main way to communicate with professors or keep current on campus activities. Flyers and the free Guide de l'étudiant (student campus guide) are still preferred methods over online communication. Although many aspects of the French college experience are old-school, your French professor will expect your rédactions or term papers to be typed.
  5. Parlez-vous français? One of the main reasons you’re studying abroad in France is to improve your French. Taking university classes in French can be extremely difficult but it’s the best way to really beef up your language skills. Your French professor won’t accept your rédaction in English so having at least adequate French skills is a must for your French study abroad.

Studying abroad in France is a great experience for many majors but cultural immersion and language fluency are key to a successful study abroad. Knowing these 5 tidbits of French university life in advance will help you to have a smoother and easier transition for your study abroad. Bonne chance!


Having studied abroad in Paris for a year, Andrea Bouchaud understands that living in the City of Light isn’t always easy. Her hands on experience with French culture and language immersion as an American student inspired her to write 2 books- Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris (2013) and The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored (2014) both on Amazon’s Kindle Store. Connect with Andrea at

How to: find an apartment for study abroad

Leaving home for a study abroad experience can be a difficult decision in itself – never mind finding a place to live while you are thousands of miles away. The challenge of finding an apartment overseas is a conflict every student faces.

The first big decision you need to make is whether you want to go with program / university housing or with independent housing. Program housing means you are housed through the school you are studying abroad with, usually in dorms with other students in the same program. Independent housing means you get to live wherever you wish to explore. Finding your own apartment means being able to choose a safe neighborhood, budget your living expenses accordingly and search for all of the amenities you desire. Living independently means you are able to come and go as you please, hire a cleaning service and make sure you are conveniently located near classes, interesting sites or nightlife.

Comfort is key when you are living away from home. It is already nerve-wracking to try and speak a foreign language for four months, but coming home to an apartment that makes you feel at home is very important. Apartments dedicated to international students are rare to find –that is, unless you want to live in a dorm. By choosing independent housing, you have the option to live in a complex with local residents, or nearby American students. It’s your choice.

This post was written by Christina Monteleone of Study Abroad Apartments. Through Study Abroad Apartments, you will not only be able to choose an apartment in a convenient location, but you will be to find other students traveling to the same destination, helping you find a roommate you share interests with, and maybe even mutual friends. Study Abroad Apartments helps students find apartments they love, and in locations not many other companies offer. If you are looking for roommates abroad, visit

For more information about housing during your study abroad experience, be sure to check out:

Packing tips for international students

Studying abroad for any amount of time is an amazing experience, full of a variety of occasions that you will need different attire for! However, it’s easy to over-pack and bring unnecessary items when luggage space is tight due to checked baggage charges and weight limits. Here’s a list of helpful tips and suggestions to make packing as painless as possible:

Weather: Do your research before you go abroad and check out the climate in the country you’re studying in. You should know what the typical weather conditions are and pack accordingly. For example, the United Kingdom is notoriously rainy, so it’s smart to pack a good raincoat that will become your best friend during sudden downpours. A sturdy pair of rain boots also comes in handy, though you can buy these there because they’re heavy and take up a lot of space. Another example would be a hot, sunny location, like in Central America or the Caribbean, where you would need lightweight summer clothing, like shorts, t-shirts, or bathing suits (and in some equatorial countries – a light raincoat).

Shop Later: Like with the rain boots, it’s often a good idea to save some items to buy when you reach your destination because they take up space or are cheaper. For example, if you’re going to Boston, you can find a winter jacket, boots, and other accessories much more easily once you are there, especially if you’re coming from somewhere like, say, Brazil. If you’re not sure of specific styles, save up money and go shopping to help you assimilate into your new home and culture. It’s also smart to save space and buy items like toiletries once you reach your destination.

Be Flexible: If you are going only for a semester (or taking a short trip while you are already abroad), a good idea is to pack clothing that’s versatile and suits several occasions. For example, a nice top that can be worn with a sweater while at work or class, but also dressed up to wear when going out at night. People often pack clothing that’s in the same color scheme to make matching easier. Scarves are also versatile, whether you use them to keep warm, cover your head, or accessorize an outfit.

Shoe Situation: The most important thing to keep in mind is comfort. If you are attending school in an urban area or city, you will most likely spend a lot of time walking around, so a comfortable pair of shoes is a necessity. Going to class, most students wear more casual footwear, but you may also need business shoes for class presentations, interviews, or other meetings. If you want to stay active, a pair of athletic shoes are also smart to bring.

The Other Stuff: Your luggage will also hold much more than your wardrobe—don’t forget to bring items that remind you of home to stay connected while abroad. You can bring photos of friends and family to hang up in your new room or anything else that has sentimental value. One overall helpful tip is to pack in Spacebags—big plastic bags that compress clothing into smaller sizes by taking out all the air. But careful, it’s easy to go over the baggage weight limit by doing this because you can fit much more into a suitcase. Clothes also take up less space when you roll them, versus the regular folding technique.

"Wraxall MMB 06 Smudge and Whisky" by mattbuck (category) - Own work by mattbuck.

Packing can be a daunting task, but don’t stress about it too much. If you are moving to a new country for an extended period of time to study, you’ll end up buying lots of new things as you settle in to your new apartment and learn about the culture.

The most important thing to remember is to plan for the location you are going to and not for the place you are coming from J