by Kyawt Thiri Nyunt
Going to college can be a difficult experience. However, going to college abroad can be even more difficult.
Vaolele Starwiarski, Associate Director of International Student and Scholar Services at Dominican also says that challenges an international student can face include: culture shock, financial problems and academic challenges.
Nontokozo Tshabalala, an exchange student from South Africa, shares her experiences, concerning the three challenges mentioned above. Being the very first person in her entire family to come to America, it required Tshabalala a lot of courage to travel across the world. One of the challenges Tshabalaa faces includes making friends. The culture differences make it hard for Tshabalala and other international students to connect to the domestic students. "I received a lot of rejections from people," says Tshabalala.
Tina Huynh, biology major from San Jose, agrees that there are many obstacles between domestic students like her and international students. "The culture differences make it hard for us to learn [about] international students since they have a different culture," says Huynh. Hyunh, however, agrees that international students can contribute different perspectives to the learning environment.
Starwiarski says that being scared to step out of the comfort zones can create barriers between international students and domestic students. “Many of our domestic students and faculty are so comfortable with where they are,” says Starwiarski. She also adds that there are many reasons for people to not travel and it can create culture barriers while interacting with people.
The second challenge, financial problems for international students, comes from visa limitations. Most international students or exchange students come to the United States with either an F1 visa or a J1 visa. These visa types prohibit international students from working outside their college campus.
The currency difference between United States and other countries also makes it more difficult for international students. For example, if a student comes from a country with higher inflation than the United States, everything can be more expensive for them. "It [would] be better if there are more on-campus jobs for international students at Dominican," says Starwiarski. Among these challenges, the academic challenges can be the most difficult one.
Since many of the international students are speaking English as their second language, it can be inconvenient at times.
Translating thoughts into a different language can be a tedious process. However, it was not that difficult for Tshabalala because she has been using English even when she was back in South Africa.
Starwiarski, who is multi-lingual, adds that one can lose context while translating a thought into a different language. Language barriers can be an obstacle for international students during their learning process.
Apart from language barriers, another problem an international student faces is different learning systems. In some countries, critical thinking is not as encouraged as it is in the US; it can be quite challenging for students from those countries to fit into a US college.
Culture differences can also be another challenge in the academic environment. Tshabalala says that back in her home country, student-teacher relationships aren’t as open as they are in the US. "The lecturers here are a bit softer," adds Tshabalala. She was also surprised how American students are comfortable with the teachers/lecturers and how students can hang out with the teachers as if they are friends.
Having international students in an educational institution can be quite beneficial as it can promote diversity and culture awareness. However, communicating across cultures can be challenging for both parties: international students and domestic students.
Having an open mind can be a key to understanding others' culture.
As for Dominican University of California, there are currently 43 international students from around the world. There are also study-abroad and exchange programs available for both domestic students and international students at Dominican.