Leaving home ain’t easy

Imagine if, one day, you traveled across the world and attended a college where everyone spoke a different language from your native tongue. How would you feel? Excited? Anxious? Welcome to the life of an international student at Guilford College.

Less than one percent of the total student population at Guilford is international. According to Randy Doss, vice president for enrollment services, of the 1,331 traditional students enrolled, only 14 are international. Of the 1,307 CCE students enrolled, only six are international. Students come from countries ranging from Japan to Rwanda to Brazil.

Kunga Denzongpa, a first-year student from Sikkim, India, said that a major challenge she had in adjusting to life at Guilford was the shift of academics from her life in India. Denzongpa said that at the college she attended in India, the average class had over 150 students.

“In some ways, (Guilford) is easier because I don’t have memorize everything,” said Denzongpa. “But in some ways, it is harder because I’m required to say what I think. I have to be proactive and ask teachers for help instead of just listening to what the teacher says.”

However, Denzongpa said that despite the “academic shock” she felt at first, the change in her overall academic experience has been rewarding.

“(One of) the best things about Guilford is that I’m actually learning things,” said Denzongpa. “(In India,) the professor would lecture to us and we would never get to ask questions. I would cheat off of people next to me.”

Although academics was an area of adjustment for Denzongpa, a common challenge for other international students is being immersed in a foreign language. Jorge Zeballos, Latino Community program coordinator and international student advisor, said that, even though students who come here are required to have a certain level of English proficiency, reading academic writings can sometimes be challenging for international students.

“An article that could take you 30 minutes to read could take (an international student) 2 hours,” said Zeballos. “They would have to look up words they don’t know and reread selections they don’t understand multiple times.”

Dominique Crespo Mijares, a first-year from Quito, Ecuador, said that, at first, speaking English regularly was a major challenge for her. Any trouble she had talking would make her feel self-conscious.

“I used to feel very insecure with my speaking, and, for me, communicating and interaction is what determines who you are,” said Crespo Mijares in an email interview. “(Eventually,) I just stopped caring whether my pronunciation was okay or not and decided to overcome those fears by participating more in class (and) socializing more with friends instead of being just the listener.”

Language is just one of many aspects highlighting international students as “different.” Rather than blending in with everyone else, Denzongpa said she stands out as someone foreign and feels she is sometimes treated differently as a result.

“(People treat me as if) I’ve been living out in the jungle,” said Denzongpa. “I’ve been asked ‘Oh, have you ever heard of McDonald’s? Do you know what a burger is?’ Of course I have.”

Canna Zheng, a junior from China, said she had difficulty connecting to other students because of their contrasting life experiences.

“Since I was raised in a different culture and a different country, a lot of my friends here don’t share common growing-up experiences with me, which makes us have different perspectives and understandings toward everything,” said Zheng in an email interview.

Zeballos said that as part of his job as international student advisor, he tries to build a strong sense of community among international students so they can rely on each for support. He often holds group activities such as taking students out to dinner. Both Crespo Mijares and Lesley Manuh, a first-year from Ghana, said the Multicultural Resource Center has been a great help to them.

“The great friends I’ve made here (at Guilford) are like family for me,” said Crespo Mijares.

Despite the challenges in adjusting to a new environment, studying abroad provides invaluable lessons for many international students, from discovering who they are as a person to how to be independent.

“I have learnt to live in a whole new, different environment and be happy, and I am learning about a whole different culture,” said Manuh in an email interview. “I believe Guilford has this warm and friendly environment where anyone can come and feel welcome. I cannot describe what it is, but I feel one has to have an open mind and heart to experience it.”