Just International Student Problems

From fielding hilarious questions about your country to stuffing your suitcase full of Amazon items that your family obsessively orders to your CMC address every time you go home, there are certain struggles that every international student at CMC has experienced. As an international student from Vancouver, Canada, being closer to home does not make these issues any less prominent. I decided to interview a few other international students on campus about their experiences going to college in the U.S. in order to increase awareness of the international student experience at CMC.

“How I misprinted all of my papers in the first week of school”

Saskia Shirley ‘22, Sydney, Australia

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For most international students, there are unforeseeable differences between the U.S. and their home country. From experiencing culture shock to being forever confused when hearing temperatures in Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, the differences seem never-ending. Shirley’s story perfectly demonstrates this notion:

“I went to go hand in one of my first papers at CMC, and as I was handing it in, I realized that the whole bottom half of the essay had cut off, and I had no idea why! This kept happening for a while, until one of my friends actually looked at the printer settings on my laptop and we realized that Australia has different paper sizes to America; we print on A4 in Australia, and Americans print on U.S. letter size. So my essay had printed supposedly on A4 paper, and a whole chunk of the paper was cut out. My professor was pretty understanding, but it was still a little awkward.”

Shirley listed people being unfamiliar with Australia as a general frustration of hers.

“People have asked me why I can’t go home for Thanksgiving, because they don’t realize how far Australia truly is. That would be a really long way to travel home for a holiday we don’t even celebrate in Australia. I’ve even been asked if Australia is part of the European continent!”

Shirley also finds the responses her peers give when they try to guess where she is from quite humorous.  

“When I first got to CMC, the first question I would get asked when I spoke to someone was where I was from. Eventually, I got tired of answering that question, so I had people guess. I was amused when people would guess places like Sweden, Belgium and England.”  

She went on to discuss that she struggles with people only focusing on where she is from when she first meets them due to her noticeable accent.

“I, of course, don’t notice that I even have an accent, but when I was meeting people in the first week of my freshman year, I would get a little frustrated when the first thing they would ask after talking to me for a bit is ‘Where are you from?,’ because I felt as though they hadn’t been listening to anything else I said, and just focused on how I said it. It is very understandable though, people are just curious because they aren’t familiar with where I am from.”   

“How I almost got registered as a woman on my social security form”

Harrison Hosking ’21, Auckland, New Zealand

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International students must obtain a social security number in order to work on campus. It can be a lengthy and, frankly, annoying process that many international students struggle with. Hosking’s story is a particularly comedic example of this.

“In the first semester of my freshman year, I wanted to work at the Atheneum, so I needed a social security number. The director of the Athenaeum wrote me a letter of recommendation, and I went down to the social security office in Pomona with it, along with all of other my forms. It was about a three hour wait, until I finally got to the booth to hand in all of my documents. The process was very matter-of-fact; the man at the booth was extremely serious. In a very professional manner, he asked me to look over the final documents and make sure everything was in order. I was about to tell him everything was okay, when I suddenly noticed a small error. I said, “everything is correct, except ... I’m not a female.” He stammered “oh” and awkwardly chuckled and then went back and corrected it … and that is how I was almost registered as a woman in the U.S. social security database.”

Hosking also humorously noted how people constantly confuse New Zealand and Australia, as a general struggle he experiences.

“A lot of people seem to think I’m from Australia, because they can’t decipher between a New Zealand and an Australian accent, despite the fact that they are two very different countries. Someone I met even thought that New Zealand was in Europe, sort of around where England is, and another person thought New Zealand was in Canada, which I was very confused about.”  

“How I found out my family’s culture”

Mrinalini Bhushan ’21, New Delhi, India

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International students are generally used to getting hundreds of questions from their peers, curious about their country of origin. While this can get exhausting, sometimes we are asked questions we don’t even know the answers to, encouraging us to learn more about our roots. I get asked a lot of questions about free healthcare in Canada and have been forced to educate myself more about the Canadian healthcare system as a result. While questions can come across as offensive or ignorant, people are usually just trying to educate themselves about other countries, taking advantage of the presence of international students in order to do so. Bhushan learned this when one of her friends asked her a question in her freshman year:

“A friend of mine once asked me what an Indian household looks like. Instead of understanding why he was asking me that, I got offended. I responded ‘It looks like any other American household’ and he was unable to understand my frustration. In retrospect, I realized that there are minute differences between Indian and American households such as the presence of certain artifacts, religious symbols, and even architecture, that do make Indian households unique. This made me realize that I need to be a little more accepting of questions about India, even though they may initially come across as aggressive or offensive. I take for granted that people would know what it’s like to live in India, but that is not the case. People are genuinely just curious and trying to learn more about the world.”

International students see life at CMC through an entirely different lens than domestic students and go through hardships, big and small, humorous and serious, on a daily basis that color our overall experience. However, I can confidently say that going to school in the U.S. allows us international students to learn more about ourselves and to view our home country from a brand new perspective.