It’s hard for international students to find love, says former professor

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Aditi Paul is a researcher and former professor based in New York City. Her research has previously focused on the impact of technology on personal relationships and her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Business Insider, Women's Health, and more. Source: Aditi Paul

Are you happy studying abroad or do you need more? Is there something else you’re searching, like how to find love in a country where everything’s new and foreign to you?

Aditi Paul, a former associate professor from PACE University, understands these struggles. After all, she moved from India to the US to pursue a PhD in Communication at Michigan State University. 

Today, she is the Principal User Experience Researcher at Boomi, where the Indian native explores how we use tech and our pain points and find business opportunities from these.

But in her PhD, her focus was on tech and why despite many dating apps, there aren’t that many opportunities to find love.

“When I was a professor and PhD candidate, my research was on online dating because I have been extremely nerdy about an overarching theme in my career — that is how do individuals like you and I use technology for romantic and sexual relationships,” Paul tells Study International. 

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we caught up with her to understand why it can feel like it’s taking a thousand years for an international student to find love:

What is love in the context of international students?

When you are an international student, you are uprooting your entire existence to move to another country. Your motivations can vary. Sometimes you want to move because of the most obvious factor: education. 

I got really curious because my motive was not for higher education, so I hosted a LinkedIn poll the other day to ask, “what was your reason for moving abroad?” I gave them four options:

  • Go to their dream university
  • Change jobs
  • Change their visa status
  • Have personal freedom

Irrespective of the reasons for moving abroad, you need to take care of the things you need to survive safely in a new land. You want to make sure that your rent is being paid or your visa status is okay. Once that is checked off, then comes your social needs.

So it takes a while before an international student starts thinking they want to find love.

And once it comes, you’ll realise that “Oh, I am in a very new country. Who do I lean on when all my social network is back home?”

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It can feel like it’s taking a thousand years for an international student to find love. Source: Sebastien Bozon/AFP

According to your research, why is it hard for international students to find love?

As part of my research, I looked at hookup culture and international students, which is a huge part of the American college culture.

What I found is that with this new generation of international students, you are not waiting to come to the US to engage in these sorts of short-term relationships. You’ve already done that. That cultural artefact of short-term hookup culture has been transported outside and people are practising that.

Another one of my hypotheses is that in the absence of existing social connections, people will resort to online dating. It turns out, international students don’t. Take this information with a pinch of salt, though, as my sample size was very small. It was 33 students.

They are resorting to other international students because we always want to build a connection with somebody to who we can relate at some base level. Maybe we have come to a country for the same reason and an instant connection happens.

Walk us through the paper you published titled, “Is Online Better Than Offline for Meeting Partners? Depends: Are You Looking to Marry or to Date?”

In 2012, I took a data set available to the public called “How Couples Meet and Stay Together” by two Stanford professors. The results of their analysis are one in five Americans meet their partners online.

I compared what has been said on paper and what is the lived reality. 

While the resources may say more Americans are finding their soulmate online, my friend is getting ghosted by some random guy on Tinder. 

The reality of online dating is that it is probably leading to a lot of marriages, but it is also leading to a lot of disgruntled singles and relationships that have no boundaries. 

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Before you can find love, you have a host of other problems to deal with first, from managing your money to getting acceptable grades. Source: John Moore/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

You came to the US to switch careers. Did you want to find love too?

I saw this Indian on Instagram who had a conversation with his therapist. There are three stages of living: the struggling level, the surviving level, and the thriving level.

As an international student, you are on the struggle bus. You have no money. You’re eating from scraps. You have to acclimate to this new education system, and a new way of communication — all while working on a visa, a bank loan deadline, and more.

Then you get on the survival phase where you have a job, you probably figured out a short-term visa solution, but you’re still surviving, still living visa renewal to visa renewal. For international students to truly thrive, you have to check off all the survival boxes to figure out how to satisfy their needs beyond that.

My brain works very differently than my friends. That’s not to say that everybody holds out to find love  — a lot of my friends have found their partners, have had children, and have houses, cars, and mortgages while still being in survival mode.

I found it precarious to build a whole life — to satisfy my social needs and self-actualisation needs — when the bottom of my pyramid is so rocky. So I focused on finding a job and getting a Green Card to ensure my foundation was rock solid.

Whenever I entered relationships in the past, I was hyper-aware that they might end because I might have to leave the country. Having that temporal mentality was very taxing; to not allow yourself to get too invested, knowing that your existence is temporary.

Do you have any advice for international students who want to find love abroad?

My perspective changed after reading “Instructions for Dancing” by Nicola Yoon.

So, here’s my advice: A relationship might end for reasons you have no control over.

But if being in a relationship, relying on somebody and leaning on someone comforts you in some ways that reduce the alienation or stress you feel, then why not do it?