In discussions with my fellow international graduate students, we have several concerns regarding our employment conditions. We also recognize that the Coalition of Graduate Employees [CGE] is helpful for us in addressing these issues.
General Life Insecurity: The biggest concern most international graduate employees have is whether we will be able to continue receiving funding throughout our degree-pursuit years at OSU. For those of us with limited support from family and our cultures of origin, financial insecurity dominates most of our life choices. Moreover, we are not eligible for any other alternatives, such as applying for student loans or US national fellowships. Therefore, when facing the problem of balance between work and personal life, we tend to comply with advisors to ensure funding. This issue is further complicated by limited opportunities when searching for affordable housing, and acculturation processes.
CGE’s contract covers all components of a graduate employee’s work relationship. The contract gives set workload caps so international graduates can’t be made to work 24/7, protects against discrimination, and instructs the university to give all employees advanced notice if they will not have funding in the future so graduate students are not caught off guard.
Housing opportunities: Some of us have difficulties when looking for off-campus places to stay since the university’s enrollment has increased recently and the rental expense has reflected these increases as well. We are more likely to settle down at less preferable places because we think we will only stay in Corvallis for around five years and have no back-up support compared to our hometowns.
CGE is negotiating a new contract right now to improve graduate employee salaries and lower fees and other costs to offset the increased cost of living in Corvallis. Better pay will give international graduate employees more financial security.
Acculturation barriers: We have more difficulties in handling all our studies, research and personal lives on top of language barriers. We have less understanding and exposure to American cultures since most of us are occupied by school work. Moreover, some of us might offend the laws accidentally and do not know where to search for help. Some of us might feel isolated and depressed due to having less social support available. Some of us might try to attend events on or around campus but still find it hard to feel accepted in the society.
CGE is more than just a labor union; it helps graduates get out of their normal department circles and meet their fellow grads all over campus. CGE hosts several social events during the year and is always looking for volunteers to come up with new ideas for fun times. If you go to cge6069.org, you can join the social email list. CGE representatives are always willing to meet with international graduates who are struggling to understand OSU polices.
In representing and working for the whole body of OSU graduate employees, CGE is particularly important for us as international graduate employees. Currently there is no single organization on campus working specifically for international graduate employees. Moreover, compared to domestic graduate students, we are more likely to be under-funded due to fellowship restrictions or other academic barriers. Given language barriers, international graduate employees tend to be working as graduate research assistants (GRAs) rather than teaching assistants, and many might prefer to be GRAs. The ongoing CGE campaign is important to recognize both GRAs’ and international graduate employees’ contributions to the university.
We hope that with the support from CGE, more international graduate students can be employed by the university and bring the benefits of cultural diversity to the university education. By uniting graduate employees from various countries, CGE can be a great example of diversity on the OSU campus and can cultivate a more open research environment, which will in return increase OSU’s reputation around the world. As a result, more outstanding international scholars will be attracted to OSU, and there will be greater potential for cross-cultural collaborations in the future.
Han-Jung Ko, M.S.
Human Development and Family Sciences