Studying Abroad in the US: A Feature on Five First-Year International Students
As of fall 2017, out of the 1,339 students enrolled at Claremont McKenna College, 234 students have a non-US permanent address, according to the Office of the Registrar and Institutional Research's Enrollment Summary. In addition, 43 foreign countries, not including the U.S., are represented on campus.
Universities worldwide boast high standards, yet a good number of international students choose to attend college here in the United States. I wanted to take a look at how universities in different countries differ from colleges like CMC, socially and academically. Here is an inside look at some of CMC’s first-year international students:
Imagine having to study the same subject throughout your entire high school years. Matiss Ozols did exactly this, exclusively studying supply and demand in England for three years straight. While born in Latvia, Ozols grew up in London, where he studied. Because of his accent, he usually introduces himself as being British, but as you get to know him, he’ll tell you he’s from Latvia since Matiss Ozols isn’t an English name.
Being an international student gives him a sense of community within CMC. However slight the culture shock may be, he feels himself having to learn the ways of the Americans and adapt to other changes. Ozols had applied to universities in England and the U.S., but to him, a small college in Southern California seems pretty special.
Ozols says, “The structures of the classes and how you pick and choose is different here. The fact that there are lots of parties on campus is fun and I feel maybe because it is a small college there are a lot more events where everyone gets together.”
Ozols notes that one of his biggest surprises has been with American drinking culture. As the drinking age is 18 in London, Ozols feels it is differently interacting with people his age who are not used to drinking. “Drinking is a massive part of Latvian culture -- I always say we do three things in Latvia-- we sing, we dance, and we drink!”
At NISSO (New International Student and Scholar Orientation), Ozols met a fellow Brit, Claudia Taylor ‘21. He says, “It was really good to meet someone from home and they are one of my best friends on campus. I was also able to settle in and make some friends I am still very close to now and hope to be for the next 4 years.”
Patricio Madero was born and raised in Torreon, Mexico, located in the north center of Mexico until he went to New Jersey to attend high school at the Lawrenceville School. Unlike most American students, Madero holds an I-20 Visa, which allows him to study in the United States legally. Without it, he would not be allowed to be in the country.
Madero says, “I had access to a few great Mexican universities I could have gone to if I hadn't decided to come to CMC. However, due to some individualistic concerns, I needed something new and unique.”
As Madero details, in Mexico, students do not get a B.S. or B.A., instead, they go to college with a career in mind. Most, if not all, of their classes, focus on their selected major. College lasts for 5 years and after graduation students do not earn a degree, but rather, they have an official title, such as engineer, economist, or lawyer.
At Mexican colleges, social life does not really correlate with academics since there are few schools where students actually live on campus. Madero says, “When I was 15, I struggled very much to adapt to high school in Jersey. However, that was not a change of culture but a personal conflict of not knowing who I was. Now, at CMC, I do not feel any struggles to adapt in any way.”
Madero also attended NISSO; he thought what was most useful was getting to see all the international students from the other 5Cs, and was able to get to know those with similar cultures as his own.
Mimi Thompson was born in Thailand and has lived there her entire life, attending a British International School in Bangkok. At her school, over fifty nationalities were represented, and she was surrounded by many different cultures, traditions, and ideas.
Thompson says, “I identify as a third-culture kid, mainly being from two different cultures and also growing up in an international school, exposed to so much more. I have been able to learn so much more than just one place in depth. It is sometimes difficult explaining to people that I am actually Thai, often needing to ‘prove’ it by speaking the language.”
A huge part of the reason Thompson chose to come to an American college instead of a UK institution is that she wanted to experience American culture, both academically and socially. At a university in the UK, students have to specialize in their field of study before starting university, and oftentimes, that means selecting a major they have never even been introduced to. Thompson would have had to declare her field of study before even arriving, unable to change it once decided.
Thompson says, “I hear from my friends in the UK that to be in a club/society, it often requires paid membership.”
At CMC, Thompson has been encouraged to join as many clubs as she can, and they are open to all who want to be involved without any cost. She believes that UK universities have a more rigid structure in the sense that students are accepted strongly based on academics, while in America, colleges take more time to understand personalities, ideas, and perspectives of students.
This being said, a couple of institutions are beginning to adapt to this broader American model.
"A few universities in the UK are starting to introduce Liberal Arts as a course, which broadens studies for students who do not want to specialize,” she adds.
Thompson also attended NISSO orientation, and her biggest takeaway from the program was that she had a huge support system, despite the big adjustment she would need to make throughout her first year at CMC.
Lorraine (Langning) Zhao:
Lorraine Zhao is from Guangzhou, China, where she has lived her entire life. Her first time studying and living in a different country, she made the decision because she feels the United States has the best education system in the world.
Zhao says, “Academically speaking, America has better resources, like professors and different job opportunities, particularly for CS and Econ majors.” Chinese undergraduates usually go to graduate schools instead of straight to work due to the fierce competition in China’s job market.
Zhao adds, “One thing worth mentioning is the common collision between politics and academic study in Chinese colleges, which makes the deans of Chinese college focus more on their own political career rather than academic studies.”
She identifies as a 90% Chinese person slightly influenced by American culture. While she does enjoy Asian food more than American food, and she is more fluent in Mandarin than she is in English, she also appreciates many elements of the American college social scene that are distinct from Chinese society.
For Zhao, NISSO provided an opportunity to move-in earlier and become more familiar with CMC's campus and its resources.