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International students adjust to Clark

They face unique challenges in finding places to live, work

Published: February 25, 2016, 6:08am

Like many students, Namika Sakai enjoys hanging out with friends, works hard in her classes and worries about her grades. But, similar to the 124 other international students enrolled at Clark College this quarter, Sakai finds her life to be quite different from that of the average American student as she faces the challenges of finding places to live and work that are unique to international students.

Clark’s international students are required to enroll in three consecutive 12-credit quarters and must also prove that they have enough money to live in the United States while attending school. With tuition for international students being almost triple that of in-state residents, this means having almost $20,000 readily available to cover health insurance, books and supplies, housing, meals and other expenses, according to the Office of International Programs. Few scholarships are available and international students can’t legally work outside the college.

The growing competition for rental housing is likely to drive those costs even higher. In September 2015,, a non-profit apartment aggregator, reported that Vancouver, with a 14.3 percent increase in the median two-bedroom rent, has had the largest increase in rent prices year-over-year in the nation. A two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver now costs about $1,050, according to the site.

Beginning next spring, Clark international students will have the option of renting an apartment within walking distance of the college, said Elie Kassab, CEO of Prestige Development, a Vancouver-based development firm that aims “to provide services for underserved communities.” With construction set to begin this May, Prestige Development is working on a two-building project entitled “Our Heroes Place” at the southwest corner of the intersection of Mill Plain Boulevard and Interstate 5 that will be feature 25 apartments available to everyone, including international students.

When renting an apartment, students are usually required to show specific documentation, such as proof of income and a credit score, which international students don’t always have. That is why Kassab is creating a place for international students to live and study without requiring the typical documentation. Kassab is planning to test this program with a few Clark students to see how it goes.

Some international students choose to live with a host family, but according to Jane Walster, director of International Programs at Clark College, that’s only about 10 out of the 125 international students at Clark. Others choose to live with relatives or rent an apartment with friends to avoid potential conflicts from living with a host family or to live a more independent life.

Since nearly all the students come from non-English-speaking countries, language can be another major barrier for students adapting to life in Vancouver.

“I’m still scared of speaking English with native speakers,” said Sakai, who is now in her ninth and final quarter at Clark. She said she is still self-conscious about her grammar and pronunciation, which has caused her to bond with students who were struggling with similar challenges.

Transportation is another big issue. Many students use C-Tran, which costs just $10 per quarter. Though the bus service is inexpensive, buses are not very convenient, especially if you live farther out from Vancouver, said Sakai, who lives in Battle Ground.

Also, few scholarships are available and international students can’t legally work outside the college. Japanese student Sho Hashimoto, recently faced this problem when looking for an internship.

Hashimoto, who is new president of the college’s International Club, sought help from the business department, found an internship, applied and got hired. However, before starting his first day, the Office of International Programs notified Hashimoto that he couldn’t continue because it wasn’t a job at Clark.

“Last week, I finally got that job and the next day (it was) canceled,” he said. “I was in a terrible mood.”

Although life for international students may be a rough ride, Vancouver is growing more in tune with their needs, said Walster, of the college’s International Programs. One improvement, she said, is the Fourth Plain International District. In December the City of Vancouver, along with other organizations, including the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber and the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, partnered to promote the areas as a safe and diverse small business district. Walster said the International District’s business directory and map helps students find places to eat that may serve the kinds of food they would find in their own countries.