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International students come to experience culture, despite being far from home

For some Michigan State University students, home is just a 15-minute drive away. For others, it is multiple hour-long flights back to a country on the other side of the world.

According to the Office of International Students and Scholars, 7,161 international students were enrolled at MSU for the Fall 2013 semester among the 49,343 total students. The number of international students at MSU is moving in an upward trend, but why do they choose to attend school here?

Senior advertising student Michael Wong from Hong Kong and freshman general management student Qi Zhang from China said they made the choice to come to MSU because of the programs available.

Wong said he attended Washington State for his freshman and sophomore years but transferred because MSU offers such a good advertising program.

As a freshman, coming to a new country may seem like a scary idea, but Zhang and finance major Xinyi Jiang from China said they were not nervous. Zhang said she knew she wanted to study abroad and Jiang had visited America before.

All 3 students said school back home in China is much different than MSU.

“The style of study is study is different because when we study in China, we just prepare for our biggest exam,” Zhang said. “We think the exam is very important but when we study in America, we think not just the exam. We also need to do lots of work.”

Zhang said when she compares school life with her friends back home, her friends are mostly focused on exams at the universities they attend.

Assistant Director for the Office of International Students and Scholars Brooke Stokdyk said one of the struggles she sees international students have is getting used to the American learning style.

“The participatory style, the level of engagement, the fact that a final test isn’t 100 percent of your grade those all things that are usually, most of our international students are experiencing for the first time,” Stokdyk said.

Jiang said school life in America is different because back home, she has help from friends in family, whereas in America she said, “I just have myself.”

She thinks she will grow up faster than if she were to study in China.

China is just one of the 131 countries represented at MSU and it is home to more than half of MSU’s international students. Other international students come from countries such as India, The Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan. The full list of countries represented can be found on the OISS webpage.

The OISS assists international students with support and their needs, serves as the liaison between international students and the U.S. government, and manages visa statuses, Stokdyk said.

Stokdyk said in order for any international student to attend school at MSU, he or she must obtain an I-20 or DS-2019, which are Visa documents.

Through those documents, the student is given either an F-1 or J-1 Visa. Most MSU students are on the F-1 Visa, according to Stokdyk.

Wong said he is required to renew his visa every four to five years. As a senior, he is given three months after graduation to find a job. He hopes to find one in America; Otherwise, he will go back home to Hong Kong.

Stokdyk said through engaging with international students, domestic students can learn about the greater world and how the world we live in is much bigger than some people may think.
“Very few Americans end up learning a foreign language, but even if you don’t, because a lot of people do speak English now, but you do have to have cultural knowledge in order to connect around the world and be successful in a career,” Stokdyk said.

However, building friendships with American students is another struggle international students face, Stokdyk said.

“There was a recent study that showed 40 percent of international students graduate without having made a real American friend which is really unfortunate,” Stokdyk said.

Just like domestic students can learn about different cultures from international students, Zhang said she has learned from some of her fellow classmates.

“The students from Michigan they also tell me where is the best place to have a trip in Michigan,” Zhang said.

Wong said working part time for MSU concessions has helped him and taught him a lot.

“In my opinion, it’s a good way to get better speaking and writing skills,” Wong said.

Before studying in America, Jiang said she had more in common with fellow students back home. Now, she said she has less because she has studied different cultures and interacted with different people in America, while her friends back home have not.

Though she is thousands of miles of home and feels the culture conflict that comes with interacting with different people, Jiang said she also feels the warmth from people around her and through making new friends.

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