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The Messy Transfer Process for International Students

Education has always been one of my top priorities ever since I was a kid. Reminded by my parents of their dream to see their three children obtain a college degree has given me enough motivation to keep pushing despite the obstacles I experience along the way. This passion instilled in me a hope that someday I will see their ultimate dream unfold, and on that graduation day, holding my parents already-wrinkled hands I can say, “We made it!”

Growing up in the Philippines and spending most of my teenage years there has opened my eyes to the struggles of not having enough. In 2008, my parents and I were given an opportunity to go to the United States via a family petition which took more than 20 years to materialize. At that time, I had just started college in one of the most prestigious private institutions in the Philippines through a merit scholarship and other financial aid. After gaining permanent residency status in the United States, my family decided the most economical decision was for me to return to the Philippines and continue my education there. I had very successful, academically rewarding semesters — until I experienced a season of complete breakdown and feelings of isolation in my junior year in college. I took a step back from school to pursue other passions such as music and still did not completely turn out for the better. Fast forward, I remember going on a solo flight back to New York City in October 2015 feeling completely empty, hopeless, and lacking purpose in life.

A few months later, I remember walking into my first job at McDonald’s in New York City, wanting to hide myself from people out of the inner mindset of incompetence as a non-native and third-world national. Gratefully, I slowly learned how to manage dealing with my insecurities while working more than 40 hours a week for about a year and a half. In Spring 2017, I decided to go back to school in New York City, looking for degree programs in Health Information Management. My first attempt to apply, I was denied because I did not meet the language proficiency requirement. Although I felt very disappointed, I would not take no for an answer and found the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s (BMCC) Health Information Technology (HIT) program, where I pursued my passion for applied health science.

Being a transfer student, especially from a foreign college, has not been easy, from having to deal with mandatory yet unreliable standardized testing criteria, inconsistent transfer credential evaluations, to the sudden academic culture shift, and the often inadequate transfer advisement process across academic institutions, public or private. These all take a toll on students’ graduation rates, self-esteem, mental health, finances, and even their potential for a career. To put it simply: If we indeed want every student to be successful in the future and contribute to the nation as skilled professionals, why are we making it more difficult for them to achieve it?

One thing all these experiences has taught me is that transfer success, as life in general, is never linear. It’s a scattered mess…yet, it’s a beautiful mess too. If I just let all the hurdles stop me in the past, I would not be where I am today: currently a junior studying Biomedical Informatics at the New York City College of Technology, and now a National Science Foundation S-STEM scholar. I struggled in my transfer process, yet I also learned to fight for myself. When I graduated with honors from BMCC and was recognized as one of the most involved students of the year in 2019, I knew I was off to a great future ahead of me. I am confident even the deep-rooted, institutional disparities affecting the next generation of students today will not be able to stop me in securing a brighter future. I can do this as long as I trust myself enough, put my heart and soul into everything I set out to accomplish, and believe in an astounding calling uniquely set for me. If I can do it, I know you can do it too!

So, take a moment today and think of an “ultimate dream” you have inside. It doesn’t matter how small or big you think it is. Ask yourself why you want to do it and what it takes for you to complete it. Write it down on a piece of paper and take an immediate first step towards it. Remind yourself daily of this dream, even in good and bad times. Lastly, always remember: “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer and never submit to failure.” Be patient. You’ll get there one day!

Romy Robielos II is a junior at New  York City College of Technology, CUNY, and a member of Young Invincibles’ Spring 2020 Young Advocates Program.