By Anne Rugumba Keinomugisha and Magaritta Acheampong
“I want to go home; I don’t like this weather. It’s so hard, especially because I am from a tropical area,” cries Lala, a Filipino student.
Studying in another country means immersing oneself in a totally different environment, community, and an entirely different culture. Harsh weather is one of the few challenges international students face. The only way to survive is to adjust to the new surroundings.
A language barrier is often an obstacle for international students, since English is not a first language for most of these students. For those fortunate enough to have learned the English language even right from kindergarten, they still face challenges as they struggle to understand the accents of those around them. Often they feel intimidated because of their own accents, since they know they sound different. As much as differences should be embraced and appreciated, it is easier said than done.
“Sometimes I feel really intimidated. I say something, and someone says to me ‘say that again?’ Sometimes it is hard to socialize because people speak so fast and use slang words,” says Lona, another student from the Philippines.
Culture shock is the greatest obstacle for most international students. Lona says, “Sometimes I encounter people who ask me ‘What are you?’ It’s just really awkward. I see students eating in class, talking back to their professors, and calling professors by their first names. It’s so strange because where I come from that’s unacceptable.”
Cultural stress can impact a student’s education. A tip to international students who might be feeling the same way is to be patient and open-minded. Don’t be shy to ask questions because those who won’t ask for help will eventually lose their way. Initiate conversations when you can, and make an effort to learn the culture.
Because of all these adjustments, international students need guidance to make their adjustment easier. At Mercy College, the person on whose shoulders this role lies is Simeon Guisuraga, the Director of International Students, a position he has held for the last 10 years. Mercy College is a diverse college filled with students from all over the world. Over 50 countries are represented by International Students in Mercy College at present, Guisuraga says. These countries include Uganda, France, Philippines, Ghana, and Mexico, among others.
Guisuraga says, ‘’We are getting more and more students from all over the world every other year.”
The Mercy community will hear nothing but praises for Guisuraga, because a lot of colleges do not take the time to explain what it takes to maintain a stay in the country or explain the transfer system to international students, a problem for students in the end, as their visa can be revoked. But Guisuraga takes the time to explain every step and then follows up to make sure the students get it done. He works side by side with the students, making them feel welcome and comfortable, he encourages and advises the students, and shows enthusiasm for his work.
“I think we are very lucky to have someone like Simeon Guisuraga,” said Romain, a student from France. He originally applied to CUNY but had trouble with the application. “My application got messed up for some reason, and it was impossible to get the answers I needed. I even decided to make a 3-day trip to New York to talk to them face to face, only to hear that my application was not receivable for the upcoming semester.”
Upon returning home, she heard about Mercy College from a friend who had been a student, and she decided to apply. Romain says “I think we are very lucky to have someone like Simeon. He made the application process fast and personal, a real relief. I remember applying around early December 2009, I was accepted two weeks later, and only had a couple of weeks to sort out the visa issues at the U.S. embassy in Paris. I was in New York three weeks later!”
Yan, a student from South Korea, says “Simeon makes things easier for me, he always encourages me. I go to him whenever I have a problem.”
Guisuraga is also in full support of the International Students Club and would like for the international students to step up and resurrect the club. The students have been very reluctant to make the club work over the past years.
“What these students forget is that the resurrection of this club would be for their own good. One of the biggest challenges for international students is home sickness. If the students were to come together to make the club work, it would be for the greater good of all the international students at Mercy College. It would be a kind of sanctuary for a lot of the students who are feeling overwhelmed,” he says.
He adds that it’s also a great place to meet others with whom they share the same experience and hang around with people from a common background who can empathize with their feelings. Resurrecting the International Students’ Club represents a way for students to represent their countries and themselves.
Some international students suggested to The Impact that International Student Office should work with the school to offer scholarships and financial aid to foreigners excelling in their academics. Apparently, work restrictions make it hard for international students to find local jobs..
One of the students who are frustrated with the lack of employment for international students said, “The fact that F1 students are not allowed to work is unbearable as far as I’m concerned.”
Perhaps providing tea or coffee during late hours or “a buddy night” for the students to meet and interact at least once or twice in the semester would assist international students in adapting to their new cultural setting as well as Mercy College. It is an idea that a revitalized International Students’ Club could initiate.