“America Calling” by Rajika Bhandari – Review

By: Angie Haddock

International students and immigrants have been the secret ingredient in America’s recipe for global success. America Calling shares one immigrant’s story, a tale that reflects millions more, and shows us why preventing the world’s best and brightest from seeking the American Dream will put this country’s future in jeopardy.


This book was “right up my alley,” as the saying goes, and I almost missed out on reading it! I was approved for the advanced reader copy, but never saw that email – spam folder, maybe? – and didn’t find out until a few days before it came out! This is why I’m posting my review a week late – the book actually came out on September 14th.

The author came to the US as a grad student in the early 90s, and studied at a state school in North Carolina. Initially, she came because that is where her boyfriend was studying.

Later in life, though, she starts working for the Institute of International Education, which compiles data and research on exchange students in the US and elsewhere. So the first two-thirds of the book is her own story and experiences as a student first, then as an immigrant seeking a work visa. The last third of the book is other stories she’s compiled through her current job, as well as stats and figures from the world of international education.

Some statistics that struck me:

International students add $45 billion to the economy yearly. (Most pay their own way, or are awarded scholarships from their own countries to study abroad. Then, they still have to buy furniture and groceries here, like the rest of us.)

Only one out of ten US students studies abroad. (Meaning that an international student on their campus here may be their only exposure to other cultures.)

One out of four founders of start-ups valued at $1 billion first came to the US as an international student.

Then there are the softer stats, like how so many students who study here and return to their home countries become advocates for US universities, or the US at large. They offer a large and vast network of unofficial diplomats in all areas of the globe. Bhandari mentions the Fulbright scholarship program as a shining example of this. The program offers both scholarships for international students to study in the US, and ones for US students to study elsewhere. Over its history, it has sponsored 400,000 students. 39 of those have gone on to become heads of state in their home countries, 60 have won Nobel prizes, and 88 have won Pulitzer prizes.

Her own experiences are no less interesting, of course, although not as easy to break down into small bites. A few things she touches on, though, include reckoning with how Asians are considered the “model minority” here. Realizing that the freedoms she enjoyed as a woman in America made her unfit to return to her home country. Having to push hard to get through her masters and doctorate programs in 6 years, because being here on a visa meant she had strict time limits and couldn’t take any breaks.

I did study abroad when I was in college, albeit for only one semester. When I returned to my home campus, though, I joined a group whose members acted as unofficial ambassadors to the international students there. There were debates about food, music, and soccer – as would be expected – but there were also instances of giving rides to the grocery store or the mall. It was fun to have these conversations, and be able to pitch in on things like getting Christmas presents for their families back home. These experiences are why I said at the top that this book was “right up my alley,” of course. I had some exposure to international students when I was college-aged, and I appreciate knowing a little more about the issues surrounding studying internationally.

Thanks to Books Forward for introducing me to this one!

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3 thoughts on ““America Calling” by Rajika Bhandari – Review”

  1. I would have loved to study abroad, but it was never in the realm of possibility for me since I paid for the last three years of my bachelors degree with grants, loans, and multiple jobs. I can’t claim it was an actual struggle – certainly not compared to those who didn’t come from a middle class background – but my finances would never have stretched to international travel.

    So when S. went off to school, I more or less told her she’d be doing a semester out of the country. Looking back, I see I was cavalier about how challenging it was. At the time, I just thought she was lucky to have the opportunity. And she’d been to Europe many times by the time she was in college. How hard could it be?

    I realize now that visiting with your parents, People to People, or even an entire class is completely different than living in a foreign land. My attitude then was completely wrong.

    Still, I think if you asked, she would say the experience was a good one, and she’s glad she did it.

    As for me, I guess I’ll wait for my next life (and probably end up with a mother who is as overbearing as me … karma).


    1. I think doing one semester is fairly easy – especially if you go through a program that finds you a host family or similar. But finding your own place, and dealing with the visas and restrictions a longer stay might entail, seems much more challenging.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. S was with a family instead of in an apartment like most in her program, mainly because she thought she’d learn some German (she’d only taken Latin and so some no modern language other than English). But her family spoke French, so that didn’t work out so well. Also, I was surprised at how most of her group of students were only there to party, so S made friends with a guy who, like her, was more interested in exploring the country and culture. I’m sure she saw more of it than any of her fellow students except possibly the guy.

        And I will say we really enjoyed Berlin when we visited. That surprised me because although at least 30% of my lineage is German, I never wanted to go there.

        I greatly admired how determined they seemed to be to not forget what happened in WWII.

        Liked by 1 person

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