Graduating is a weird experience. At first I was excited about it, then I was scared, then I was excited again, but now... it doesn’t seem real yet.
After four years of waking up around my class schedule and going to bed at unspeakable times to finish my assignments, having absolutely no structure to follow is both freeing and nerve-wracking. Necessary, though.
This is not an issue that only international students have to deal with, of course. It’s more a stage of life that a lot of us experience. But, as an international student, I can’t deny there is an extra layer to this whole situation. Our American friends can take a break, go home, or get a job at a coffee shop for a while. But, if you want to stay in the U.S., you have to find other options. You can’t do nothing, because you’re probably in the U.S. on an F1 visa, which is a student visa. And well, once you graduate, you’re no longer a student, right?
So one option that is very popular for international students who want to stay in the U.S. a little longer is to do Optional Practical Training, better known as OPT. OPT is basically what gives you permission for temporary employment in your area of study. It lasts about 12 months usually, but some fields can get an extension.
Do I recommend it?
Four years ago I straight up would have said YES. It’s professional development and it lets you stay in the U.S. longer. But now, I really think it depends on your goals. Some of my friends decided that four years was enough time away from home. Others felt like they would rather have professional experience in their own countries. For others, it sounded more appealing to get a masters’ degree after undergrad.
It really depends on your goals.
For me, OPT was an option out of many in my mind. If I’m honest, it was a tough decision because I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I wasn’t sure what was the thingthat would make me feel like I am growing the most and using my acquired knowledge. But most of all, after studying for so long, I wasn’t sure what should my next step be, or what would make me the happiest. In the end, I decided that I wanted to be in the U.S. a few more months growing as an individual while getting some professional experience. I wanted to be doing this while I figured out my next steps, so OPT fit for now.
As you see, it’s very subjective, but what’s important is that you give yourself time to think about this. You don’t get your OPT from one day to the other—you may have to attend a workshop before applying, meet with your advisor, and after that you have to wait to get a response. I applied at the beginning of my last quarter, and I’m still waiting for my card, so definitely give yourself time. It might even be helpful to go to a workshop or talk to your advisor even earlier than I did, so they can answer your questions properly and help you figure out if this is what you really want to do.
If you go back home immediately, you can apply everything you’ve learned in theory with your own community. If you want to stay, you can do so too, it will just take a few extra steps. But, like I’ve said before, whatever you decide will in some way help you grow so don’t be afraid of your choices.
Wendy Tafur is an international student from Ecuador who just graduated from Seattle University with a double major in Creative Writing and Theatre. She’s excited to share some of the stories of things she’s learned in her time in the U.S.!