The thought of moving from her small hometown of Kokshetau, Kazakhstan, to one of the biggest cities in the world was overwhelming. Aizhan Kapysheva was about to start her graduate studies at Columbia University in New York City in 2016, but she had major concerns.
Like many international students coming to study in the U.S., she wondered whether she could afford to live in a city like New York.
A research conducted by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the U.S. Department of Education showed that the number of new international students attending American colleges and universities dropped by nearly 10,000 for the first time in 12 years in 2016, the same year Kapysheva joined Columbia University.
The decrease was mainly attributed to soaring tuition fees and hard economic times. International students spent $39 billion on tuition, room, and board and living expenses, in the U.S. in 2016 alone, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“Coming to Columbia University was a dream that seemed unreal,” said Kapysheva, who previously worked as a World Health Organization (WHO) consultant in Kazakhstan. “I never expected to get in at all and I did not know anybody from my undergraduate who had done it. I wondered how much a room would cost in New York City and whether I could even see it before I moved in.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science, however, Kapysheva felt that a master’s degree in development practice from the ivy league school would equip her with the necessary knowledge, experience, and networks to bring social change to her country and region.
Luckily, a compatriot from Kazakhstan and a graduate student at the Columbia Graduate School of Social Work introduced her to International House in New York City. International House is a non-profit residence that has accommodated graduate students, scholars, trainees and interns from across the globe to live, learn and grow together in its house in Manhattan, New York for more than 90 years.
“I visited the International House website from Kazakhstan and the rooms and the social atmosphere were all very appealing,” she said. “However, I couldn’t afford it.”
She applied for housing assistance through the International House financial aid program and was awarded significant support.
“I honestly don’t know how I would have managed if I hadn’t gotten the scholarship,” said Kapysheva, who is also a Women’s International Leadership program fellow at the International House. “The financial support enabled me to seek meaningful internships, such as taking an unpaid internship at the Human Rights Watch, without having to worry so much about my finances.”
For more than 50 years, the International House financial aid program has provided local and international students in the U.S. with housing assistance. Currently, the program supports 200 Residents annually.
Megan Amouzou, Director of Admissions at International House, said that the financial aid program is sustained by individuals and different foundations that are meant to increase the population of Residents from underrepresented countries, regions and fields of study.
“The application is need-based,” said Amouzou. “We look at what the financial resources are, the applications we receive and whether they fit to any special funds that we may have at that particular time.”
The program has so far awarded financial aid exceeding $500,000 for the 2017-2018 fall semester and there are plans to provide additional support for Residents in the spring semester.
Benjamin Itangishaka is another beneficiary of the program. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo and now a U.S. citizen, Itangishaka had to take out huge loans to pay for his master’s degree tuition at the New York University School of Professional Studies.
“I took a risk and moved to New York to pursue my studies with virtually little to no scholarship, mostly loans,” he said. “An I-House Alumnus strongly recommended I apply because he thought it was a good fit for me because of my interest in global affairs. He was correct, best choice.”
Itangishaka received financial assistance for the 2016-2017 and the 2017-2018 academic years. “I-House support alleviated my financial burden. Because of their generous support, I now take fewer loans for housing,” he added.
Richmund Sta. Lucia, a lawyer from Philippines, also had to take a student loan to pay for his tuition at the Columbia Law School. He applied for International House financial assistance and received support for the current year.
“I resigned from my prior job as a government lawyer because my salary was meager, which made it difficult for me to save,” said Lucia. “International House award was instrumental in lightening my financial burden.” He said that the financial assistance has helped him focus more on his demanding graduate legal studies without worry too much about his outlays.
“The vibrant international community, the programs and fellowships, and the available amenities made me want to live at I-House,” he explained. “I love playing basketball and other sports, attending the many exciting events with inspirational speakers, and something as simple as meeting a new friend and share a meal at the dining area.”
These three financial assistance beneficiaries have not let the high cost of education dampen the enthusiasm of achieving their goals in life.
Aizhan Kapysheva is passionate about social development in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In the short term, she hopes to develop and strengthen her knowledge and skills globally to prepare her to lead a regional development organization in the next 15 years.
Itangishaka sees himself as a working for a consultancy firm or running a non-profit doing work in building inclusive and sustainable democratic efforts, and gender and human rights advocacy in Central/East Africa. He wants to work with refugees and internally displaced persons. He currently works for the Jimbere Fund, a non-profit he started with his cousin.
As for Lucia, he wants to be an attorney at a New York law firm or at an international financial institution like the World Bank. He also plans to enroll for a master’s in public administration or a doctorate of the science of law (JSD).
The author of this piece, Caleb Mutua, is also a beneficiary of International House financial aid. Like the 200 other recipients of this support this year, he is grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the I-House Experience. Caleb is passionate about sharing stories about how, through the generosity of Alumni and other donors, Residents from around the world are benefiting from the extraordinary added value to their graduate studies by being part of the I-House Community. Learn more about supporting I-House financial aid programs here.