Coming to America Was a Dream

Volare | Blog

Part 1: The American Dream

It’s easy to sit in a rich suburban neighborhood in Queen Ann and complain about the “lie of the American dream.” Coming to America is not all rainbows and cupcakes, and there are many things that need to be changed, for the US to become a more equitable society, but there are still advantages to the new world, that many International students desperately need to take advantage of.

“I wanted to be a doctor from when I was very young… I’ve always been fascinated by human physiology,” said Italian international student Yohannes Abraham. “When I shadowed doctors, I asked everybody, what they thought about my willingness to move to the US… and every single doctor I asked, said if I have to choose between the US and Italy, just go for the US.”

Abraham grew up in Monza, Italy, with a mother from Naples, and a father who was an eritrean immigrant to Italy. When he was entering Italy’s five year specialized high school system, Abraham immediately gravitated towards medicine. It soon became clear that the clearest path towards his dream was enrollment in an American medical school. His journey has begun with undergrad courses at Seattle Pacific University.

“We’re (Italy) still in the crisis from 2008, like we didn’t get out of there,” Said Abraham. (In Italy) A doctor who gets through medical school, works the first month and gets $3,000 and that’s $36,000 a year. If you work eight hours at Dicks burgers, which gives you $16.00 per hour, you almost make the same thing.” 

Abraham saw America as an opportunity to escape oppressive taxes in his home country, even making the radical claim that a bachelor’s degree in American means, “money is not a stress in your life.” 

However, this does not mean that Abraham’s path through American education has been a cake walk. There are still a multitude of obstacles and bureaucratic red tape that has complicated his journey. 

“Education is expensive in general, but the US one, it’s just crazy expensive,” Abraham conceded. “If I want to look for external scholarships from different private agencies or whatever, I basically almost can’t, because all of them are federally funded, and I’m not a permanent resident or US citizen.”

This struggle to find money for college extends into the world of loans, where Abraham is caught between two countries, and two financial systems. 

“Most (medical students) take loans from banks, which most international students can’t, because even though they have American bank account, they are not permanent residents,” Abraham explained. “And then we cannot take loans from Italian banks, or from our own country, because the main point is to reinvest those monies and then help the (Italian) community and society.”

Part 2: Getting accepted – Navigating the difficult path to medical school in America

Before Abraham figures out how to pay his way through medical school, he has to figure out where he can be accepted. The reason Abraham is currently attending Seattle Pacific, is because his aunt lives in South Seattle. With all the work restrictions thrown at Abraham through his student visa, it’s important to have somewhere he can stay near where he is going to school. Unfortunately for him, the University of Washington, one of the most renowned medical schools in the country, does not accept international students into their medical school, meaning he will be forced to move once he completes his undergraduate degree, assuming he is admitted to one of the only 50 medical in the country that does accept international students. (

“I don’t know if I will ever be accepted into medical school in the US,” Said Abraham. “But I 100% know, if I will ever be accepted, I have to move from Seattle.”

Abraham also must navigate the challenges of Optional Practical Training (OPT) and student visas, which all international students must perilously walk. 

“Right now I’m doing Curricular Practical Training (CPT) which is something that allows me to earn money not connected to SPU but is connected to my major,” Abraham explained. CPT is temporary work authorization for F-1 visa international students in the US while enrolling in a college-level degree program. The training has to relate directly to the student’s major area of study, and it is an integral part of the major curriculum. 

Abraham is currently working in a research team, based out of Seattle. He is living at home in Italy and virtually coming to work everyday. While Abraham recognizes the important job experience he is gaining through his research, he is worried about it’s effect on his future OPT decision. This is because 12-month full-time CPT will eliminate a student’s eligibility for OPT.

“One struggle of this is I can only work part time,” Abraham explained. “If I wanted to do it full time I couldn’t because if you do it full time, for a length of one year… then you cannot do OPT.” 

While getting OPT is very important, Abraham recognizes that it is not the ultimate goal.

“How to get a working visa is not something that is fully explained,” Said Abraham. “Getting OPT is cool, yeah, fun, you have it. But having an OPT means you just have one year left, which is scary. So getting a working visa, at least calms you down, and of course the goal of getting a working visa, is eventually getting a green card.” 

Part 3: Getting experience – Finding quality work experience and create networks to achieve his ultimate goals

As far as getting experience in college, some internships, or part time jobs do not allow international students to apply. This is mostly due to misconceptions about the OPT hiring process. According to the UC Berkeley guide to hiring international students, companies and HR departments think that hiring these students is much harder than it actually is. Infact hiring someone with OPT or CPT is just as easy as hiring anyone else. Unfortunately this burden falls onto the international student, who is faced with the daunting task of educating potential job recruiters, or finding other jobs that do not fall prey to OPT myths. 

“On the SPU website there is a list of internships you can apply to,” Said Abraham. “Out of the 50 (On the website) I think I could apply to 5, because I’m an international student, so it’s just a waste of like 2-3 days just to look for the one’s I could apply to. So it would be nice to already have a list of things that international students are allowed to do.” 

Yohannes Abraham is a hard worker, with incredible charisma, paired with a stellar connection and understanding of reality. If anyone is going to make it in the American medical field, it’s him. Despite all of the obstacles in his way, Abraham still has a refreshing thankfulness for the situation he has been placed in. 

“Coming to America was a dream”, Said Abraham.  

Published by Volare

Career Coaching for International Students

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