One of the biggest advantages of going to college is that it is like getting to live in a bubble before having to go out into the workforce. For many, though, it is much more than that bubble. International students experience life on campus very differently, and no one knows that better than domestic students who have traveled abroad and the professors who try to help these students in their day-to-day lives.
Trine University is a somewhat homogenous community, and because of that, it is easy for minorities and internationals to feel alienated. The Multicultural Student Organization (MSO) is the main force on campus to help change that. With Deborah McHenry as their faculty advisor since 1995, the MSO has been committed to its mission statement to “embrace cultural diversity and promote leadership and development for all students.”
The MSO began to support international students and recognize minorities at Trine University, a predominantly white campus. Still today it tries to uphold these virtues, making people feel as well-adjusted as possible.
Students, especially international ones, come from all walks of life, and adjusting to college can be hard for even the most local students. McHenry has stories of all kinds, about international and domestic students alike. One student, she said, now works at Boeing while getting her master’s degree, but she had trouble adjusting more than most international students. International students deal with different pressures, and one of the hardest is the isolation of being away from home.
“We welcome everyone,” said McHenry, “but it is hard for them sometimes. Not only do other students make them feel alone, but the environment can just as easily.”
The MSO goes out of its way to try to make students who are “high-risk” feel more at home. These students include those who are from drastically different cultures, and there are several events to try to make life a little easier for them. As well as offering a means to get to know other people, the MSO helps to host Trine’s Black History Month/Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration, Amish Cultural Exchange, Latina Fiesta, and International Night. In addition, the MSO travels to Chicago once yearly to attend an annual diversity conference there.
Mostly, though, McHenry said, they try to reach them early. “We host a Meet-n-Greet at the beginning of each semester just to give them a starting place. We send out messages to all the minority and international students on campus to make sure that they know it’s happening.
Of course, sometimes students do fall through the cracks, and it is difficult to help a student who doesn’t know how to ask for that help. “Sometimes they’ll tell us they’re just used to a more urban area,” said McHenry. The unfortunate reality is that it is very hard to be different, and going abroad is not an easy adventure. However, when McHenry smiles and talks about the success stories, it is clear to see that it is a worthwhile venture.
“I had one student who I took back to my house to stay with me because he had been in some trouble, and we joked that he was in the ‘witness protection program’,” McHenry said and laughed. “There was another boy from Sweden, several years ago, who came to campus almost a week early. He was so alone – the only one in his residence hall – and he was almost back on a plane to Sweden before we found him and convinced him to stay.”
While the time abroad is ultimately fulfilling, it is also one of the most difficult things these students will ever do, but Trine is better for it. The university gets to share their experiences and their culture as well as get an outside perspective, and the students gain a whole new life altogether. These students are incredibly brave as well as incredibly lucky. They gain the experience of a lifetime, and the university, in return, gets a whole new way to look at life itself.
These students partake in many struggles due to the language barrier. American culture is also very different to them.
Professor Brandy DePriest was very eager to talk about teaching international students. When asked what it is like to teach them, DePriest stated, “It is challenging because of the language barrier. I have to change my teaching approach so they fully understand the assignments and lecture. It’s really interesting because I get some neat cultural perspectives that I don’t get from American classes.” When asking the question, her face lights up and it is easy to see that she really means what she says.
DePriest speaks French herself, and was an international student in the French-speaking part of Belgium. For her to go through that experience and now teach the same type of students helps her through it. Later, when asked if she has a good relationship with them she explained, “Yes I do. A really great relationship and really enjoy the class. I have been an exchange student. I took French Lit, so I know what it is like. And they have fun.”
For the communication barrier, DePriest shared, “Some people are naturally better at English than others so it is easier to communicate with them verbally. For the others I put everything in writing so they can sit and examine it with a translator.” Many of the students here at Trine speak English, but are still very hard to understand or communicate with. DePriest does her best job of getting through that barrier and communicating with her international students.
Some teachers might hold a different standard for their international students. Professor DePriest said, “Standards are not different but my approach is. It is a lot more work for me and the students. The students are not getting things easier; it is just a different teaching style for them.” The standards should be the same for everyone, but that does not mean that the professors cannot teach the class how the students need it to be taught.
Some people, professors included, discriminate against these students. They treat them as less than a domestic student. DePriest is not one of those people. She expressed that, “I do not speak down to them. I talk to all people the same way no matter what they are or how old.” DePriest treats international students as equal.
DePriest is a great teacher for American and international students. She makes students feel as if they have a say and as though they are equals. She helps them understand to the best of her ability. She forms a great relationship with all of the students, and allows help for them at anytime she is available. International students to her are not considered foreign. “They are are just like every other student here. They just need a little extra shove in certain areas..”
International students should be treated as equal, and DePriest is on board to help make that happen.
Dr. Haseeb Kazi, Professor of Mathematics and Director of Study Abroad at Trine University, knows the value of studying in a foreign country firsthand.
He also knows the struggles students face when they choose to pursue their education far from home, and how attitude can make all the difference in the world.
Born and raised in Pakistan, Kazi first came to the United States about fifteen years ago, when he began studies as a graduate student at Southern Illinois University. He earned a Master of Science there in 2002, as well as a Ph.D. in 2006. He then remained in the United States, where he has taught mathematics at the undergraduate level at several universities, eventually landing at Trine.
“I have found that math is the same everywhere,” Kazi says with a smile. Math is not the only common denominator he has discovered between cultures, either. However, that does not mean his transition from Pakistan to the United States was without its challenges.
For Kazi, the biggest hardship was being so far away from his family in Pakistan. This continues to be tough for him, as he has chosen to start his own family and build a career here in the United States. He makes return visits to Pakistan when he can, but at this point, he feels he has definitely made the United States his home.
In order to achieve that sense of belonging in a new country, he has really had to adjust his mindset, he says. That same mindset adjustment is also what he believes is necessary to ensure a positive study abroad experience, or any experience with life in another culture.
Kazi’s secret to a successful time abroad: it all starts within.
“If you have a good attitude, you will have a good experience,” he says simply. Since coming to the United States, he has learned that letting go of preconceived expectations goes a long way toward helping him open his heart and mind to others, and has made him much more grateful for his new experiences.
Perhaps appropriately for someone who has specialized in mathematics throughout his career, Kazi first encountered this life lesson in a grade school math class.
“When I was in the sixth grade, I learned that when you write a plus sign, you should always start with the horizontal line, and then make the vertical line,” says Kazi. “If you make the vertical line first, and then realize that you actually needed to write a minus sign, you will have to scribble out the vertical line; but if you start with the horizontal line, you will not need to change anything. You already have the minus sign there.
“The life lesson is that if you start with lower expectations, any blessings you get after that will just be an added bonus,” Kazi explains. This kind of gratitude-oriented thinking is essential for anyone who wishes to experience a different culture, he says.
Of course, ultimately, Kazi believes the benefits of studying, working, or living abroad far outweigh any costs.
“I came here to study math, but more than math, what I learned here is life lessons,” Kazi says. “Going abroad was a good experience for me because I have always been a person who is interested in broadening my horizons. So it starts with what is inside you… I believe that if you win the war inside you, you will be ready to conquer the entire world in front of you.”
It’s a one in a million chance and open to almost all students. It may be nerve-wracking to think about, but if taken it can be the opportunity of a lifetime. Studying abroad is a chance to travel and receive college credit. Each year over 280 thousand college students choose to study abroad in a country completely foreign to them. Experiences may vary, but for Colin Meadowcroft and Megan Brazier, their time spent abroad couldn’t have gone better.
Studying abroad for many students can be an invigorating time, but also a lonely time. Students of all ages embark on this great adventure across seas generally by themselves or with strangers. However Meadowcroft was fortunate enough to go with two friends, making the trip a little less lonely. When asked about homesickness, Meadowcroft said, “I got home sick every once and a while, nothing too bad. I would do things that reminded me of my family, but then I’d remember that I am in Europe doing something not very many people get to do.” While Meadowcroft was only over in Prague, the Czech Republic, for one semester, the option to stay for a full year is available. By the end of his stay in Europe, Meadowcroft was ready to head back to the United States.
When people think of studying abroad they might think that the culture is completely different than in America, but that’s not entirely true. While Meadowcroft did his schooling in Prague, he was able to travel to Germany, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland, France, Greece, Poland, the Netherlands, Spain, and England. While traveling through Europe he said that much of Europe is Americanized and that he had no trouble fitting in or making friends. Brazier agreed that the culture in Ireland, where she studied, was very similar to life in America. One difference did stick out. On campus in Ireland, pubs were allowed and professors and students would go out together. For the most part, in the opinions of Meadowcroft and Brazier, European countries have become Americanized, making study abroad opportunities an easier transition on students.
The majority of colleges have study abroad programs that students can use to start their journey overseas. For Brazier, her trip started through Trine’s study abroad club. Trine University’s study abroad organization set Megan up with GlobalLinks, a company that has now partnered with the International Studies Abroad (ISA). The two companies combined have 50 years of experience in locating students to foreign countries to study abroad. However, ISA is not alone. There are other companies such as Panrimo that offer students the same opportunity to travel and study abroad. Meadowcroft chose to go through Panrimo as opposed to through Trine’s program so he could live off of campus while abroad. Similar to colleges and universities in America, when students study abroad they are given the option to live on campus or rent an apartment off campus. Meadowcroft chose to live with friends off campus and Brazier chose to live on campus in a dorm. When asked if living off campus hindered his experience, Meadowcroft said, ‘Not at all! I still experienced so much of what Europe had to offer. I was still able to eat the different foods, meet new people, and see the sights. I still had homework like everyone else and had to focus.”
There is a stereotype that students from across seas tend to be smarter and the classes are harder, which may be the case with some schools, but Brazier and Meadowcroft both agreed that the classes and students were also very similar to students and schools in the United States. “Honestly I don’t think they were any more focused than we are here in America. I struggle to see the difference between us intellectually,” Brazier stated when asked if the students from the university’s home country had different attitudes toward school. Meadowcroft said that many were focused, but no different than those from America. This is just another aspect of study abroad that makes the entire experience an easier transition from American schooling to foreign schooling. Another thing that allows for easier transitions is that Americans are, “received with open arms,” said Meadowcroft. Even though everything is foreign to students who study abroad, they are still foreign in that environment. This leaves the people very interested in Americans and getting to understand our culture, just as we are trying to do with them.
Though traveling abroad can be a nerve-wracking thing to do, it is such a rewarding opportunity that if given the chance again, Meadowcroft and Brazier both agreed that they would go back in a heartbeat. European countries are different, yes, but have become Americanized over the years. To Meadowcroft and Brazier, they are like a home away from home.
Through all these different perspectives, one thing remains clear. While it is not always easy, either being international or simply dealing with cultural differences, it is almost always rewarding. Life here at Trine simply would not be the same without the diversity that these experiences bring, from Dr. Kazi, who started a whole new life here, to Megan Brazier and Colin Meadowcroft who had shorter, though still fulfilling, experiences elsewhere. There is a lot of life out in the world, and everyone can be thankful that Trine does not limit itself to just the tri-county area.