Photo from Drake Law School
BY TUMA HAJI
When senior Mio Mukaiyama first got accepted into Drake University and received her student visa, she expected the Americans she met to be stereotypically happy, energetic and laid back. She was pleasantly surprised to learn that the students and faculty she came into contact with were just like the people she left back home in her native Japan.
Mukaiyama, among the hundreds of international students Drake admits each year, wanted a unique educational experience past the borders of her country.
“I wanted to get out of Japan and see the world beyond, so there was no better opportunity than studying outside of Japan,” Mukaiyama said. “I also wanted to meet people from all different backgrounds, and that’s exactly what I got coming to Drake.”
Zoh Hussain, an international first-year student from Pakistan, wanted to leave his homeland to pursue his thirst for knowledge and gain a well-rounded experience of the world. He’s always dreamed of studying abroad.
“I believe today, in order for you to acquire real education, you need to get out of your home country and experience life, especially as a student from within,” he said.
For Hussain, the process of becoming an international student was exciting. It was only until he arrived at Drake to become an official Bulldog that the reality of being a foreign student set in.
“The expectations that you’re going to experience, so much more excites you but the pressure hits you when you get here, because then you realize you’re going to be facing more challenges than you realized,” Hussain said.
Hussain’s expectations of Drake being laid back were shattered by his observation that the campus climate is fast-paced. Hussain expressed surprise that Drake is a “fast-paced, really competitive place.”
“Don’t get me wrong, people here know how to party and have fun, but at the end of the day, their priorities are very well-defined, which I did not expect,” Hussain said.
Both Mukaiyama and Hussain, along with a host of international students worldwide, face challenges that non-international students aren’t confronted with.
Mukaiyama said she wishes that Americans understood how differing cultural norms and implications can be barriers in communication.
“I wish that they understood that it’s intimidating talking to fluent English speakers when English isn’t your main language, but that doesn’t mean we want to shut them out,” Mukiyama said.
Mukaiyama said she used to struggle with studying textbooks and understanding her seminar instructors because English wasn’t her primary language. Group work made her nervous because she felt her strong accent and non-fluent English was an annoyance.
The language barrier extended past the classroom and into the interpersonal interactions Mukaiyama had with non-Japanese students.
“I wish that they understood that my culture has different social norms than here, and so some interactions don’t mean what they think they mean,” Mukaiyama said.
Hussain, who says his non-international friends understand that he comes from a culture that is in many ways different from the American culture, still wishes they could understand the additional challenges of living in a foreign nation.
“The pressure of fitting in, the inability to go back home so easily, the realization of the fact that you’re so far away from home, from your people and everything you grew up with,” Hussain said.
Mukaiyama finds solace and bonding with other international students who understand the struggles of being away from one’s country.
For Hussain, the thrill and challenges of pushing past his comfort zone are the most rewarding parts of being an international student. He said the best and worst part of being an international student is “carrying yourself out of this bubble most people tend to spend their whole lives in. That is, the bubble of their comfort zone.”
Hussain said that international students oftentimes unconsciously push past the boundaries of their comfort zone, and that is where the difficulty and growth lies.
“You will come across days when you would want to go back home really badly,” Hussain said. “However, the results is what the best thing about studying abroad is. It teaches you so much more about yourself and the world, and in most cases, changes your perspective on things for the better, and I believe these are lessons that I will take with me wherever I go in life.”