By Andrea Bouchaud
When I’m not conquering and changing the study abroad world for the better with the Twenty in Paris book, I work for a French company. For the past few months, a French student interned at our company. His name was ***Alain. As one of the few native Anglophones who has Francophone capabilities in the office, I was asked to assist him on some American legal matters.
I was so excited at the prospect to learn about the process and legal hoops that foreign students go through to come to the United States because this is something I normally don’t have privy to as an American. Unfortunately, what I ended up discovering was not more information on things that foreign students experience when working/studying in the United States but rather how unprepared this particular foreign student was for working and living abroad.
Alain did not research the entire process for obtaining a work visa in the USA before his arrival. To work in the USA on a work visa requires the leg work back in the home country of obtaining the request to work letter from the foreign company, taking that to the American Embassy in your home country, getting the visa in your passport, come to the USA, get another document from the Department of Homeland Security at airport customs and then go to the local American Social Security Office. Doesn’t sound too hard to me, albeit detailed, but this student intern just didn’t know these steps in advance for some unknown reason and got things done really last minute. When I took him to the Social Security Office, he didn’t have the main document! We had to come back a second time and for a moment he thought he didn’t have another required document. Thankfully, he had it in his unorganized and hidden packet of papers stuffed in his backpack. Alain successfully obtained an American social security number which is needed to work and receive compensation in the USA. I still don’t understand why he didn’t have all the papers the first time, especially since I asked him if he had everything- he had said yes!
When I wasn’t helping him sort out American legal issues, I would try to tell him about Dallas and American life. I would always ask him if he visited downtown, saw the museums, did anything fun and the answer was always no. Dallas has an extremely small downtown. You could definitely visit it in 1 day or a weekend if you stretched it out. To help him know what there is to do in Dallas, I would send him emails with links to the Dallas sites. This boy did not research the main things to see before he left. Sight seeing and getting to know the host city is a very important part of living abroad. Don’t be a hermit and not explore! I understand it can be lonely but that is when you invite a friend from work/school or accept a native’s offer to go sight seeing which he always refused.
In addition to legal issues and Dallas life, I helped Alain with work issues. In one of these interactions, I asked him if the company provided him private, American health insurance. He didn’t know. I asked him what his plans were if he were injured and had to go to the hospital- who did he think would be paying that bill? Alain said he did not plan on going to the hospital. Now, no one goes abroad with the intent to get injured enough to have to go to the hospital but accidents do happen and it’s always good to be prepared. It was evident to me that he did not research American culture in advance by following the news as he would’ve known that we are a private health insurance based country where each citizen pays for his/her own health insurance and not the state. After dealing with all of this boy’s lack of preparedness, this comment truly was the top of the line. I was so offended that he came to this country unprepared for an accident when I did not do the same discourteousness to France.
The sole thing I learned was that Alain was unprepared for this experience. Preparation and research is critical anytime you go abroad be it for vacation or work/study. Learn from our friend and be prepared!
***Name changed to protect the innocent