Traveling to another country to go to college can come with opportunity, but it can also come with challenges.
Oklahoma State University has about 1,800 international students from about 100 different countries, said Regina Henry, coordinator of immigration with the Office of International Students and Scholars.
For Ebtesam Al-Rashidi, a international business and economic relations graduate student from Saudi Arabia, she said coming to OSU gave her an opportunity to gain independence.
“When I came here I didn’t know my personality will change,” Al- Rashidi said. “I’ll be more independent, I’ll do my stuff by myself you know back home everything is done for you.”
Another thing that international students get from their time here at Oklahoma State is new experiences.
For Jooyoung Kwak, an educational leadership graduate student from South Korea, that meant seeing something she never had the opportunity to see back home.
“I come from Seoul,” Kwak said. “Which is a really big city.
“I had never lived outside of Seoul, when I first came here I was a little bit shocked that I could see the horizon. I had never seen that before.”
Another thing that Kwak said she didn’t expect when she came here is the hospitality. She said she’s been invited to several friends’ family gatherings, something she said isn’t the norm in South Korea. Family events are more private and are reserved for family.
While studying in a different country can come with benefits, Henry said there are challenges that students face.
“Culturally the challenges can be as simple as learning to eat different food,” Henry said. “…and the challenge of learning our education system, a new education system that’s different than what their home country might have.”
While these students have separate challenges such as an educational system and language barriers, many of the challenges they face are not much different than the challenges an American college student might face. These include doing their own laundry and learning to do things on their own, Henry said.
While these students go through similar challenges as American students and have many similarities, that doesn’t mean that they don’t fall victim to stereotypes.
For Swapneel Deshpande, a business analytics graduate student from India, his experience with stereotypes came at homecoming last year.
“I remember during homecoming,” Deshpande said. “One person, I had a long beard, he started running behind me with a beer bottle saying ‘Terrorist go back to your country.’”
People often think that all of India is a poor place because that’s what the media often portrays, Deshpande said. There are parts of India that have things we don’t even have in the United States, Deshpande said.
Other international students experience other forms of stereotyping. Al-Rashidi said when she tells people she is from Saudi Arabia, people often ask if she lives in a hut and rides camels. Kwak said people often don’t realize that North Korea and South Korea are two separate places.
Henry said OSU’s diversity exposes American students to new cultures.
“Basically the international students bring with them their own culture,” Henry said. “So someone who’s from the United States that hasn’t ever had that opportunity to meet anyone of a diversity, it gives them that opportunity in a classroom setting to meet someone from a different country.”