Breaking down international barriers

“I was shy at first and insecure, felt like a stranger. I didn’t know if my English was good enough, if they would laugh at my accent, if they’d be racist towards me, I just didn’t know if I would be accepted in this new community I know nothing about,” said Omar Sherief, a sophomore with an undecided major.

Sherief is an international student from Egypt. Chapman University boasts a spectrum of students from all across the globe. According to its website, 10% of the student body are international students, hailing from eighty-eight different countries.

Often, international students find solace in the presence of each other, especially during the first few weeks of school.

“I found it really helped having a roommate who was also an international [student]; it made the transition a lot easier for me,” said Kyle Kattler, a sophomore business major from Canada.

Students who are not only experiencing a new school, but also a new culture, society, and language, can feel alienated, regardless of being surrounded by other international students.

“I came to Chapman with my boyfriend of over two years then and I guess that made my transition much easier than those who came here all alone, without knowing anyone. Or so I thought,” said Aastha Malik, a sophomore business administration/marketing major from India.

Despite having her boyfriend with her, it was Malik’s first time away from home and her parents, and the homesickness took over. “I even called my parents at the end of my first semester weeping and asking to come back home and quit college.”

Malik credited her decision to stay at Chapman to the new group of friends she had made, yet she noticed differences between her friends at Chapman and her friends back home. This realization applied to almost everyone she met in the United States.

The first thing that Malik noticed was the difference in how people interacted with each other. “People in India are, in general, a lot warmer and welcoming, and when I first got here I noticed how much people put their walls up,” said Malik.

Contrasting this completely, one of the biggest differences Sakura Kato, a freshman psychology major from Myanmar, noticed was how friendly and loud everyone was upon arrival to Chapman. Kato believed the behavior to be a result of students trying to make friends quickly and make good impressions, but said, “the friendliness definitely helped in making me feel welcome, regardless of how real it all was.”

When Maria Belen, a senior chemistry major from Ecuador, first came to Chapman, she noticed how busy people seemed, constantly working and moving around. “People here work nonstop! They do not lie when they say, ‘time is money,’” said Belen.

This was exemplified by the lack of family dinners, which she noticed when visiting American families. “Everybody just eats whenever they can. Everybody seems to be always busy with school and/or work, so they lack a family time at the table every night.”

“Everyone here definitely has a distinct lack of work ethic,” said Hiro Ueno, a news/documentary & communication studies major, who lived in Japan for eight years. Ueno noticed that many people in the United States are praised for working long hours or having two or more jobs.

“That’s the standard back home,” said Ueno, noting that culturally in the United States people look forward to the weekend, yet in Japanese culture they look forward to the weekdays.

With each country and culture having such vast differences, it can be hard for international students to relate to each other. While they share the common ground of feeling alienated in American culture, their own cultures differ so that they react to American culture differently.

One common theme among international students, however, is their subtle assimilation into American culture and society, most often exemplified when returning to their home countries.

Shiv Rajagopal, a freshman film studies major who spent the first ten years of his life in India and the next eight years in Hong Kong, noticed that his accent had changed dramatically after spending just one semester at Chapman.

Sherief said that when he went back home to Egypt for the first time, everyone said he had changed, and he did not see what they meant until the second time he returned home.

“I’ve changed a lot. My beliefs, my education, my English, my eating habits, my sleeping patterns, the people I choose to hang out with, my dreams, my goals, my inspiration, my role models, my view on what beauty is,” said Sherief. “I became a completely different person, a better person, I like to believe.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve been whitewashed, but I still notice that I have inherent Japanese tendencies that are almost ingrained into my mannerisms,” said Ueno, when asked about returning to Japan.

“All in all, my experience at Chapman has been great and I have learned so much about myself, which I wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t come to Chapman,” said Malik.

“When I’m in Ecuador I miss my Panther home. When I’m at Chapman, I miss my Ecuadorian home. Now I just like to think that I belong to the world rather than to a specific country,” said Belen.

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