International students come to UConn for ‘experience of a lifetime’
Published: Thursday, August 30, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 30, 2012 22:08
If you’ve ever walked around campus for a considerable amount of time you know that the odds are just as likely you will hear more Korean, French, and Chinese spoken than English sometimes.
This phenomenon is unfortunately not occurring because UConn students are well-versed in many languages, but is attributed to the large numbers of international exchange students and international four year degree-seeking students. While exchange students tend to stay at UConn for a semester or two, international degree seeking students spend four years on campus, away from their native countries to pursue their university education in a new setting. In the spring of 2012, UConn had a recorded 2,035 exchange students, with the bulk coming from China, India and Korea. This semester, UConn has a documented 577 students, with the numbers still officially coming in. Of these students, 280 are graduate students working for their PhDs, 160 are undergraduate degree seeking students, and 137 are semester exchange students.
Both exchange and degree seeking students come for a variety of reasons but the overwhelming majority come to the United States looking for the experience of a lifetime. Many degree seeking students, like Guanfeng Zheng, a first semester undecided major from China, came to UConn as a freshmen international student to pursue a better education than they are able to receive at home. “The university in China is messed up,” said Zheng. “High schools work students very hard, so when students go to college they want to relax and don’t do work. I will learn more here.” For exchange students, a semester at UConn provides a fun and educational break from the hard work they are required to do at their home universities. According to Camilla Toh, a fifth semester Marketing major from National University of Singapore, she decided to study abroad, because “We didn’t want to stay at home, it’s a break.”
The presence of exchange students on campus is not just an experience for the international students, its beneficial to the UConn students who live, interact, and study with them and creates a diverse environment. For exchanges, the UConn environment can be quite an adjustment. According to Robert Chudy, the International Center Director, “It’s a cultural adjustment, it’s a whole new lifestyle, a new pattern of friendship…everybody brings their cultural baggage with them and this is where they interact.” Sheryl Lim, a fifth semester Marketing major also from National University of Singapore, says “It’s just a different experience. The way you teach is different.” Toh agreed, noting that “The business classes are better, they are more hands on, instead of theory. It’s good, but it’s also intimidating when you’re forced to be proactive after always being a passive participant.” Classes are not the only aspect of UConn life that differs from what most exchange students are accustomed to. Sukriti Sekhri, a fifth year exchange student originally from India, who also studies marketing at University of Singapore, says that she “was used to jumping from India to Singapore, but it’s still Asia, so this is really different, the dorms are co-ed.” As for domestic UConn students, most students feel they benefit positively from interacting in the classrooms, dorms, and social settings with internationals. Allie Hughes, a first semester English major, says “The biggest surprise is that you always think they’re so different, but they’re not. They’re the same kinds of people, just from a different place.” Alma Otuonye, a third semester Philosophy major, agreed with Hughes, “they’re so much cooler, you get exposed to their culture and you get to see how they express respect. It’s a different view from dealing with Americans.”
Although cultural differences can be extreme and tricky to overcome, most international students react positively to their UConn experience and life in the United States as a whole. Zheng was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of Americans in the airport when he landed. “It was not very hard to get help,” he said. “I met nice people at the airport, Americans are very nice and helpful.”