BY Tuma Haji
Exchange student Sarah Eunice Stephen traveled 25 hours by airplane from her home in Malaysia to attend Drake University. She traveled thousands of miles away from the environment, culture, and society she had grown up in to start a new experience in a foreign country.
Unlike domestic students who can either drive or fly back home within hours or less, international students like Stephen do not have that comfort. Many international students remain on campus during the holidays or breaks.
“I can’t go back anytime I want because it’s so expensive. It’s definitely a struggle being away from my family for a whole year and even harder for the holidays,” she said. “The process was very long. Especially with the time distance, it’s so difficult to get in contact with admissions because by the time they start work, it’s time for me to sleep. Before I could even start my visa, I had to wait almost a month for all my materials to arrive. It’s a waiting game more than anything else.”
While in a new country, adjusting to a different culture can be challenging for some international students.
Stephen said that she assumed she would feel at home as soon as she came onto campus but was surprised to find that she felt “more like a fish out of water” when confronted with cultural barriers such as language.
“The other day, I kept asking where the washroom was- and after a few moments the person realized that I was referring to the restroom. Just minor things like that,” Stephen said.
Stephen views the cultural unfamiliarity and incongruence as both a drawback and a benefit.
“I think the best part is feeling so special! Everyone is so interested in my culture and in my country whereas back home everything felt so regular because I met so many people who were the same as me.”
Japanese international student Sana Hinami also made the transition into American culture at Drake. She wanted to expose herself to a variety of different cultures and felt that America would be the perfect place to study.
Hinami appreciated the International Mentor/Academic Consultants (IMAC) for helping her transition. IMAC is a student organization that pairs international students with upper class student volunteers to help them transition into campus life.
“The best thing is that IMAC supports us. All of them are really, really nice to us, and they are amazing,” Hinami said. “I really appreciate that they support our life and they make many opportunities to hang out together.”
Drake encourages international students to use IMACs as a resource for their college career.
Everyday actions and slang used can act as cultural barriers. Such things can be learned through observation or guidance from American students. Hinami said that she welcomes friendly suggestions and corrections.
“I don’t know about the culture here, so if I do something weird or rude, I want them to let me know. I really want everyone to know that I want to interact with them.”