International students adjust to U

The University hosted 3,294 international students in 2003.

by Matthew Gruchow

As they step on U.S. soil for the first time, the experiences of international students on campus are as diverse as their cultures.

At the Small World Coffee Hour in Heller Hall on Friday, the University’s international students discussed life in a foreign country and met other students from abroad. Students expressed feelings varying from surreal excitement to fear of extra governmental scrutiny.

“(Being here) is like being in a movie,” said junior business student Emmanuelle Andre, from France. “It doesn’t seem real.”

The number of international students on campus this fall will not be released until next week, said Jennifer Schulz, Learning Abroad Center communications coordinator. The University hosted 3,294 international students in 2003, she said.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government has scrutinized foreign students’ visas more carefully. Despite this scrutiny, not all students said they found the procedure cumbersome.

Getting accepted to a “prestigious” school as the University helped ease the visa process, said graduate student Shwetlena Sabarwal, from India.

“It went very smooth, and everyone was very nice,” she said.

Education officials nationwide blame stricter entry procedures, visa difficulties and increasing competition from foreign universities for the decline in the number of international students coming to the United States.

International students must be prepared at any time to show the government they are enrolled in school and have necessary funding for it, Sabarwal said.

In addition to finding classes, doing homework and navigating campus, some international students add the language barrier to their list of difficulties.

Tutors, teachers and other students help out when international students have difficulty understanding professors or coursework, Andre said.

I ha ve to work a lot alone in my room before and after the classes,” she said. “It’s even difficult to understand questions in exams.”

Exposure to U.S. culture through foreign media helps reduce the culture shock, Sabarwal and Andre said.

“I had heard there was a cultural divide, but I didn’t see it,” Sabarwal said. “In India there is so much exposure to (U.S.) culture.”

Some Arab students might not feel as welcome, said first-year graduate student Abdul Basit, of Pakistan. He said they feel the government treats them differently than their European counterparts.

“Once they are here, they feel they are more closely scrutinized,” he said.

But the community and Muslim student groups work hard to help Arab students assimilate into campus life, he said.

“They support them very well, and they guide them at every point,” Basit said. “Settling on campus isn’t a problem.”

Kay Thomas, International Student and Scholar Services director, said the University works hard to help foreign students ease into campus life, but she understands some students must deal with added layers of bureaucracy.

Students from some countries must get additional security clearances along with their visas, she said.

“We’re very aware what some of these students from these countries have to go through,” she said. “But it’s nothing that we can really do much about. That’s the frustrating part for us.”

New international students must go through an orientation session when they arrive. They are encouraged to join small groups and activities designed for socializing and becoming comfortable with campus, Thomas said.

Students can also come to the International Student and Scholar Services’ office with any problems they have during the year, she said.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunities for people to get some help in readjusting,” she said. “Most of them are pretty excited.”