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Overcoming CHALLENGES International students share overcoming the challenges of studying in the United States as part of our scholarship essay competition

How am Igoing to do this


What’s Inside? Pack Your Bags,

We’re Going to NAFSA! Reaching for the Golden Mountain: International Student to Immigration Attorney


Things That

AMAZ E D Me in the


From The Editors: Welcome to International Student Voice Magazine! This is a magazine dedicated to sharing the voices of international students in the United States. Since launching in 2011, we’ve shared stories from students all over the world, talking about a variety of experiences. By sharing these stories, we provide tips and advice for readers, as well as be an advocate for international students standing up and saying, “Hey! I have a voice!” Plus, we want readers to have fun and make friends from around the world! Readers voted us “favorite student website” for the INTO Web Awards this past summer, showing we are meeting the goals set for ISV Magazine. Students submit stories or have interviews with the staff by visiting We always have new articles and resources on a daily basis. Thank you for reading and supporting International Student Voice Magazine!

Carrie Circosta

Editor in Chief Twitter: @ISVMagazine

As a former international student studying in the United States, I faced it all. Culture shock, language barriers, finding scholarships, making new friends - the list continues.

It is easy to identify the common challenges international students face while studying in the United States, but what are the solutions? ISV Magazine asked readers their thoughts on what would be the best way to overcome these challenges for the ISV Magazine scholarship essay competition. While I was reading the essays, I could relate to each story, thinking back to my time as an international student. I was so proud to see these students come up with realistic solutions and being willing to share them with their peers. These essays are the feature of this issue, and I hope you not only enjoy reading them, but also find them helpful as you continue your studies in the United States.

Eron Memaj

Managing Editor Twitter: @Eron.Memaj


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What Students Say About International Student Voice Magazine “Thank you so much for publishing my articles. It has even been translated into Burmese by a writer in Mandalay. I greatly appreciate the opportunity you have given me, a simple student from Burma, to express myself to my peers.” Mya Yee Nandar, Burma, University of Hawaii HILO

“I love so much the ISV Magazine because it is a great way to help others through stories. It is really amazing how many things you can learn from other cultures and students as well.” Cindy Orsorio, Honduras, College of Lake County

“Winning the ISV Magazine scholarship gave me the opportunity to voice the experience I had with a tsunami in 2004. This was the first time I had voiced my experience in public.” Onalie Ariyabandhu, Sri Lanka, Iowa State University


International Student Voice Magazine | January 2014


From the Editors


Overcoming Challenges


Pack Your Bags, We’re Going to NAFSA!



Reaching for the Golden Mountain

Scholarship Finalists and Winner discuss overcoming challenges as International Students


15 Things that Amazed Me in the U.S. as a Foreigner


Our Support


Pack Your Bags, W Learn more about an organization dedicated to advocating for international and study abroad students and how you can get involved.



he journey of being an international student begins in his or her home country, even before boarding the airplane. When a student decides to study in the United States, there are administrators working at universities and colleges who serve as liaisons between the institution, U.S. government, and the student. They make sure the student stays in compliance with U.S. immigration regulations and also provide programs such as an orientation to help the student adjust to a new institution and culture, activities to make the student feel at home, and other support services while studying in the country. In order for these administrators to stay informed about international student needs and immigration procedures, they receive support from an organization called NAFSA, the Association of International Educators. “NAFSA is a professional organization for international educators, that’s people who work study abroad, international student advising, international student we provide the training and support for those professionals to be the best professionals that they can be,” Frank Merendino, Associate Director of Organizational Advancement for NAFSA explained. “So without that type of training they wouldn’t be able to provide as good of service to those students.” Since founded in 1948, NAFSA now has more than 10,000 members in 150 countries and is the largest non-profit organization dedicated to international education. NAFSA provides many resources all year round, including a chance for professionals to attend conferences so they can share best practices and how to attend to the evolving needs of international students. Each year there is one national conference and then several regional conferences. NAFSA divides into 11 regions and each region hosts a conference between October and November each year. 3

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NAFSA is divided into 11 geographic regions across the United States. Courtesy of

YOU HAVE REACHED YOUR DESTINATION: NAFSA BI-REGIONAL CONFERENCE We wanted to check out one of these conferences, so the ISV Magazine team traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana to attend the bi-regional V and VI NAFSA conference November 4-6, 2013. There were six pre-conference workshops and more than 100 sessions available to attend. These sessions covered different areas of international education, including: • International student and scholar services • International educational leadership • Education abroad • Teaching, learning, and scholarship A couple of sessions that focused on international students included: • Death of a student: Planning and responding to tragedy • AISO: Association of International Student Organizations • Immigration consequences of criminal activity

Death of a Student: Planning and Responding to a Tragedy The first session let administrators discuss the best practices when faced with the difficult and unfortunate circumstance of when an international student passes away. “We’ve had a number of tragedies at our school,” Tim Kao, Associate Director, Center for International Programs at the University of Dayton explained during the presentation. “We had two Chinese students pass away in a car accident. Even with numerous sessions like this you can never fully prepare to respond to these things, but it’s really about minimizing as best you can, the difficulty of the tragedy.” One takeaway would be for international students to make sure their international office has up-to-date family contact information in case of any emergency.

, We’re Going to NAFSA! By Eron Memaj and Carrie Circosta

AISO: Association of International Student Organizations This was a student presentation about a newly formed international student association and its upcoming conference March 14 - 16, 2014 in Grand Valley, Michigan. “The goal of AISO is to bring all international student organizations from universities across the country together and swap ideas and to unite international students to advocate for things we need,” Douwe Driehuis, an international student from the Netherlands explained. Driehuis studies hospitality and tourism management with a minor in business at Grand Valley State University and is the lead conference planner this year. “The more people we get involved in AISO the stronger the voice of international students will be in this country,” Driehuis explained. “We can advocate for you as a person. Plus, we have several leadership positions, and you get to know other international students across the country.” If you want to learn more about AISO, visit Immigration Consequences of Criminal Activity The last session explained what could happen to a student’s immigration status if he or she was arrested or charged for a crime. If an international student happens to be in any type of situation involving the law, no matter how small it may seem, it may affect his or her status and an attorney will be needed. “I think the most important thing international students need to realize is that they’re new to a country, so they don’t know the rules and regulations and they need to educate themselves,” Shahrzad Allen, Of Counsel Immigration attorney with Pickrel, Schaeffer, and Ebeling Co. explained. “Although their classmates, U.S. citizens, could potentially get into some kind of trouble and it would just be a slap on their

really affect their status here or worse, down the line have effects on their ability to come back to the United States. You can have fun, but stay out of trouble.” Allen explained that driving without a state license, drinking alcohol and driving, and possession of marijuana are the most common reasons international students get in trouble.

PLAN YOUR OWN TRIP: GET INVOLVED WITH NAFSA Students can get involved in NAFSA by attending, presenting, or volunteering at regional conferences to learn more about the field or share their own experiences about being an international student. “Students have their own unique experiences, especially international students,” Sam Lockhart, the NAFSA region VI chair explained. “A person can be in international education for 20 years and still not get that student experience. We think we do, we talk to students every day and it’s our job to advise students, but it’s hard to see what life looks like from that student’s perspective. So students have the opportunity to present at conferences and share their experiences directly with the people who are advising and advocating for them.” Fei Yang, an international student from China studying educational leadership and policy management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said she attended the NAFSA bi-regional conference because of her experience as an international student she now wants to work in the field of international education. “I graduate in December and I really hope I can get a job after graduation,” Yang explained. “Maybe I want to be an advisor of international student services or doing something related to study abroad programs, that would be my dream career.” Estera Pirosca from Romania just graduated from The Ohio State University with a master’s in public administration. She is currently on OPT and working for the non-profit organization International

Friendships, a non-profit Christian organization that provides hospitality for international students in Columbus, Ohio. She co-presented a session about resources available for international students with families. “We talked about community organizations and faith-based organizations that are free and not funded by the federal government, so international students can access them with no problem,” Pirosca explained. “I shared more about International Friendships and the activities that we do.” Grants are available for students to help cover travel and registration costs. To learn more about NAFSA, talk with your international student advisor and visit

Fei Yang, from China studying at the University of WisconsinMadison, attended the bi-regional NAFSA V and VI conference. Watch highlights from the conference, see more student interviews, and our spotlights on international education professionals at


Reaching for the Golden Mountain From being an international student to a successful immigration attorney, Margaret Wong shares her journey and advice for today’s international students. By Carrie Circosta


argaret Wong has been called the “Alien Angel” for helping others achieve what she calls the “golden mountain”, the United States, a place to call home. As an internationally renowned immigration attorney, she was practicing immigration law long before it was the center of hot political debates. Since 1976, she has guided countless immigrants through an often frustrating and long process of making the United States home. Her firm even represented both President Barack Obama’s half-aunt and half-uncle from Kenya in deportation hearings. Not only does she have 35 years of law experience, she has also lived through the immigration process. She arrived in the United States from Hong Kong in 1969 on a student visa and today is a proud U.S. citizen.

FROM HONG KONG TO THE “GOLDEN MOUNTAIN” Let’s go back to the year 1949. The world continued to recover from World War II and the Chinese Civil War split the country between the Chinese Nationalists and the Chinese Communist Party. Though defeated, the Chinese Nationalist army led by Chiang Kai-shek moved to Taiwan. Some Chinese fled to Hong Kong. One year later, Margaret Wong was born. “My parents were with the Chiang Kaishek group, instead of going to Taiwan my father took over the family publishing company and went to Hong Kong,” Wong explained. “My parents were writers and publishers, my dad would be whispering on the phone about spies, I went through that as a child.” It was a time of famine, limited access to education, and smuggling people into Hong Kong who was trying to escape communist China. Wong was still able to attend all Catholic schools growing up and when she was 19, her and her sister went to the United States with $187 between them. “My dream has always been America, it has always been the golden mountain,” Wong


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said with her eyes lighting up. Wong first stayed with a host family in Tacoma, Washington, just outside of Seattle. “I still remember when my host family drove us onto the Seattle highway, the roads were so beautiful. There weren’t potholes, the greenery, it was a beautiful place,” Wong remembered. When Wong first arrived in the United States, she explained Americans seeing a foreign student wasn’t an every day thing. “Now the world is different, the world is becoming smaller. People are traveling. In my day, it was unheard of. So when people saw me, they were like, “Wow!” So times have really changed.” Wong attended junior college at an all Catholic school in Iowa and then graduated from Western Illinois University with her bachelor’s degree. She earned her J.D. from the State University of New York, University at Buffalo Law School in 1976. All the way through college, she worked as a waitress. She even got fired a couple of times. “Even the firing process was nice,” Wong laughed. “They would just say you don’t know enough about drinks. What did I know? I was 19 years old. I would also have to help my sister and girlfriends get jobs. Then [everyone thought] all Chinese looked alike, so I would go to a place and say my name was Rose, they would hire me, and then Rose would go to work.” But Wong said it was those waitressing jobs that really helped her make her way through college, make friends, and learn the English language. “I met some wonderful waitresses who became good friends throughout the years,” Wong explained. “I had a wonderful boss who would teach us not to use the F-word or S-word.” Wong was one of the first non-U.S. citizens licensed to practice law in New York and Ohio. But the beginning of her law career wasn’t easy. “It took me 10 months to get my first job on OPT,” Wong explained.

“I kept getting fired or people just couldn’t hire me. So I decided to start my own firm. No one was doing immigration at the time.” Wong now has immigration offices in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and Nashville. On top of a list of endless awards, she volunteers on several boards of different organizations and teaches immigration law at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Watch more about Margaret Wong by visiting our website videos.

“My dream has always been America, it has always been the golden mountain.”

Enter a Chance to Win! Win a copy of Margaret Wong’s book The Immigrant’s Way and this adorable tiger that speaks five langauges!

Visit for details and to enter.

7 Tips Being a Successful International Student

From her own personal experiences and also working with current international students, Margaret Wong shared seven suggestions on how to be successful in the United States.

1. Read newspapers

“Feel America through reading. You really need to get the feel of the paper. Read one local and one national newspaper. Learn about American culture and news.”

2. Visit places and museums

“It’s important to visit places [in America] and museums to learn about American history.”

3. Write a daily journal

5. Support each other

“As minorities we have a tendency to push each other down. Jewish people are the only people who support each other, if you’re successful I’m successful. Us Chinese, even now, if you’re successful I’m jealous. We need to support each other.”

6. Make a good first impression

“We [Chinese] assume no one is looking at us. Asian people have the mindset that looks aren’t that important, it’s what’s on the inside. But the first look, it controls people’s impression of you.”

7. Work hard

“Nobody is going to give you anything unless you work for it. I deserved to be fired because I didn’t know what I was doing. No one is entitled. You have to get good grades, work hard, study hard, go door to door and ask for the hiring manager. Be hungry!”

“Students need to think and focus. Writing will help you reflect and also help with your English.”

If an international student would like to pursue the path of earning a green card, Wong shared one piece of advice:

4. Make new friends

It isn’t all about money, visas, and green cards “Some become so addicted to getting the green card, they forget there’s life out there. You need to be professionally and personally satisfied before getting the green card. The green card will come later, but there needs to be a balance.”

“I didn’t consciously do it. I needed to work. I was the RA on the floor in my dormitory. I got to know the people. Being in leadership positions or just working helps you make new friends.”


15 Things That

AMAZED Me as a Foreigner Article written by Rustam Niyazov, ISV Reporter Home country: Kyrgyzstan

Disclaimer: My comparative observations are very general and not necessarily represent all Americans or all people from Central Asians countries: Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan.


Smiling - Americans love smiling when

they greet you, especially in the southern states, not very much in the East Coast. While we, Central Asians, generally smile to those whom we personally know. Tough love!


Women Drivers - Most American

women are drivers and most amazingly for me was to see elder women drivers who I never saw on Central Asian roads. Can’t imagine our grandma’s driving a car in their 70s. First, our people usually don’t live that long, second, women are discouraged to get in front of the wheel. Sadly, we are part of “no women, no drive” culture. But we don’t place our elders in nursing homes because traditionally it is the youngest son’s duty to take care of their old parents.


Smoking - Americans do smoke, but

you don’t see them that much in public compared to Central Asian countries. Maybe most Americans smoke in their cars because that’s where they spend most of their time?! U.S. colleges live by smoke-free rules and that’s great! Also, you can’t buy one cigarette or one bottle of beer as people do in our countries, you get everything in packages in U.S.


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Transportation - U.S. roads are made for

cars and are pedestrian-unfriendly. Anywhere you call you get directions on how to get there on a car assuming that you have one. Public transportation is not developed or used here as in Central Asia. You can’t catch a taxi in small town America, but you can catch a fish in the nearby pond, of course, if you have a permission. U.S. stores don’t have the variety of fish that we eat in Central Asia.


Food - It was only in Turkey and then in U.S.

when I heard the concept of ‘organic’ food because in Central Asia organic food is taken for granted and we don’t genetically modify our food. Here you buy food in boxes and packages and you think you bought a lot of stuff, but half of it are boxes and plastic. But U.S. has a recycling system unlike in our countries.


Money - In U.S. all money is on cards, no cash

in hands, except on hands who work for cash. And every store has its own card for discounts, so my wallet is full of cards rather than cash that I used to carry. Credit carding makes everything seemingly accessible and seemingly cheap because swiping is a one touch process. So in U.S. living in debt is a norm and everything depends on your credit card report. Central Asians mostly rely on their relatives when it comes to borrowing money.



American bread is sweetened, but it is not the major thing that they eat. While in Central Asia, bread is ‘the shape of our hearts’. So once I went to a store here and asked for unsweetened bread, the store manager said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.”


Stores - Convenient

stores in U.S., especially in small town America, are a rare thing. If you need to shop, you have to go to big stores, often miles away from the place you live. Small business is shrinking in America, like the Aral Sea in Central Asia.


Sports - Athletes are

god-like creatures in America. Many Americans love running, camping, and going to parks, but there are very few amusement parks. You will rarely see Central Asians running to improve their health, even if the doctor says you’re going to die next year if you don’t start running today. “Ah, I still have a year…” you may hear in respond.



- American doctors don’t spend much time talking, explaining or asking questions. Very quick check up time and you are set to go. You will receive your bill later in the mail. Facilities are good, but our doctors seems to be better compared to American ones just because they don’t act like unapproachable authority figures.


Family - I used to think

that Americans have only one or two kids but I was wrong. They’ve got big families just like in Central Asia. Although, some kids live with one of their divorced parents, who may be married to other people, who know and meet with each other and are ok to live that way. This kind of situation would be close to impossible for Central Asians.


Other Things - People are allergic here to things that are exotic to us like peanut butter; widespread fight against cancer, the disease that’s uncommon to us; advocacy for LGBTQ rights the thing that most of us blame the Western cultures for ‘importing’ it to us; people with disabilities that are invisible in our schools; and problems with obesity that we may never encounter with the way we live.


Housing - Most private houses in Central

Asia are brick-made rather than wood-made as in the U.S., maybe because we don’t have tornados?! A Central Asian house is a place where no one can enter with shoes for it’s considered disrespectful and shoes are seen as something unhygienic unlike in U.S.


Green America - Americans love planting

grass and flowers in their backyards and front yards and then buying expensive noisy mowers or hiring somebody to cut that grass. Most Central Asians love vegetable gardens or keep some livestock in their backyards, and sometimes it is our major source of income who also play the role of ‘organic’ mowers.


Race - Rather than ethnicity or nationality

of people are asked on U.S. official forms. However, here who you are doesn’t matter that much in Central Asia, and you don’t feel the pressure to be or to prove who you are. Perhaps, pressure is something you feel when you don’t know who the hell you are?!


Overcom CHALLENGES As part of the International Student Voice Magazine scholarship competition, students had to answer the following:


International students can face many challenges while studying in Ohio and the United States. Pick one challenge or more interntional students face and suggest solution(s) to those challenge(s).


It was important to identify the challenges, but we also wanted to hear what solutions international students had for overcoming those challenges.

CONGRATULATIONS to our finalists and the winner of our $300 scholarship. For more information about our scholarships please visit


International Student Voice Magazine






hange is an inevitable part of life. As international students there are many changes that we encounter upon taking on the mantle of a new environment. Some of these changes might be good while others might be considered a challenge and this is sometimes dependent on the immediate or external environment. Some of the challenges that international students face are language barriers, professor-student relationships and a different kind of weather among others. International students might also harbor feelings of loneliness and other mental health issues like depression. While these challenges might be overwhelming, there are a number of ways in which they might be mitigated. Some of these way include networking with peers or fellow international students, joining campus and community organizations, and participating in local or domestic activities. One of the major challenges that I faced as an international student was that of feeling alone. I grew up in an extended family and for most of my life I have lived with my siblings. Even though I had moved out of my family’s house as an adult to work in my country’s capital; we were only 45 minutes away from each other. Before coming to Athens, Ohio, I had no idea that I would have shed so many tears out of fear and frustration until I started graduate school. From my very arrival to a few days into orientation I felt geographically disoriented, anxious, nervous, scared, but within all this there was a glimmer of optimism. Things began to change for me when I meet some students called Peer Advisors (PAS). 11

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When I arrived on campus, I went to the wrong building for my immigration check-in and as a result I had to walk with my luggage to the actual building. To make matters worse, I had no accommodation! I did not have place reserved even though I had been extremely keen and cautious with all the recommended procedures for arrival. After explaining my ordeal to the International Student Orientation Committee, one of the PAS offered to let me stay with her for as long as I wanted because she had accommodation for two weeks. From that moment on, we became very good friends. She invited me to all the peer events that were scheduled for new students and this was very helpful in making friends and familiarizing myself with my new environment. International students might be able to overcome some of the challenges that are generally encountered by communicating with students who have gone through the process. One of the best things that my program director did was share our email addresses with the second year international students in my program and that way, we were able to get advice from them about almost every concern that we had.

In my country, there is a famous parable that encourages to do our best in whatever situations we might find ourselves in. It says that we are to “bloom wherever we are planted”. I am very aware that there are some situations and challenges that might seem to be insurmountable, but sometimes very simple steps and changes can make a big difference. Based on my experience in first year, I decided to become a PAS, I am currently the International Week Co-chair for the International Student Union and I am a Graduate Assistant at the Center for International Studies. My experience has taught me that while we acculturate and deculturate, it is very important to remember the good experiences you have had and try to do the same for others.

“..we are to bloom wherever we are planted.”

Facing English Language Problems While Studying in Ohio


s an international exchange student from China studying at Shawnee State University, I’ve been here for three months. I enjoy everything here, know nice people from all over the world, receive help from teachers and classmates, I’m earning a different, yet good education, and smelling the fresh, new air. Truly speaking, everything here is special, however, as an international student I face a big problem with the English language. Normally, as a non-English speaking foreigner, I become confused and get in trouble. I especially had trouble during the first days in the U.S. having normal conversations with American and other international students. It is difficult for people to do anything without language. Without knowing the language, there are misunderstandings, confusion about what professors talk about in class, and important information lost during meetings. Comparing those days at the beginning, my English keeps improving thanks to the strategies I created. The strategies I made as follows:

1. Live with an American student in a house. He/she will help when there are questions in English. 2. Ask tutors or teachers for help. They have experiences that can give some useful strategies. 3. Get along well with American and international friends. They can also give a hand when needed. 4. Preview textbooks before going to class and follow the syllabus to know about the general content. 5. Review the notes from class. 6. Ask classmates for copies of their notes from class to check for missed information. Don’t worry about it! Just go to ask classmates for notes and everything will be fine. 7. When there are misunderstandings or something said incorrectly, don’t be shy. Be brave to ask for the correction and speak slowly. 8. Be active and talk to people who speak English well. Frequently talking to these people will improve speaking in English.







very international student faces many challenges while studying in the United States. The state of Ohio attracts many international students from all over the world because of its reputable universities. Moving to a new country with a language that we are not familiar with can be daunting. It can sometimes bring an international student down because of not being able to fit into the American society. There are many challenges nearly all international students face in Ohio. One of the challenges is the English communication. Both international and American students are fearful of communicating with each other due to the language barrier. Both parties worry that even a simple conversation requires extensive clarification in terms of


International Student Voice Magazine

explanation and pronunciation. At the end of the day, a barrier divides both teams due to the exhaustion of trying to understand each other, suggesting it is best for both teams to avoid lots of speaking in the future. International students push themselves daily to learn English so they would not be ridiculed and confused by American students. Sometimes, reactions like “shaking heads of confusion” while speaking gives a clear message to international students that they are indeed difficult to be understood. It is no shocker that international students sit by a corner in class and avoiding as much contact as possible with American students. Thus, American students should be patient and attentive while listening to international students. On the other hand, international students should be brave and speak to American students in daily conversation. A simple “hi-bye” would not only lead to more conversations, but also build confidence in both parties communication. Another challenge international students face in Ohio is loneliness. There are so many activities held daily on campus. It is up to the students to immerse themselves in it. Campus activities may not be publicized efficiently, but international student do need to make an effort in knowing the ins and outs of the university. I remember coming here in 2011 without any relatives in this country; I reassured myself that involvement on campus would keep me occupied and prevent homesickness. I picked up a student events handbook, identified all campus events, and made efforts to attend them. During these events, I pushed myself to communicate with the guests and students so I could feel more confident in my English speaking skills. Articulating English words is not an easy task, knowing that a slip of words or misinterpretations may hurt a person’s feeling and would be the end of a new friendship Moreover, taking leadership roles in student organizations on campus would not only be a resume builder, but it can prove to all students that international students can lead English-speaking organizations. In conclusion, international students in

Ohio need to make an effort by proving to be on the same level as the American students in terms of English communication ability. It is no doubt that we have to go the extra mile to be comfortable among American students. It is a risk worth taking because it could lead to many doors of opportunities and in return, these students could one day say that studying in the U.S. was by far one of their best decisions.

“It is no doubt that we have to go the extra mile to be comfortable among American students daily. But it is a risk that is worth taking because it could lead to many doors of opportunities.”



am from India and I love Spanish. My strong predilection for this language also introduced me to Pasteles, a traditional Latin American dish. A friend of mine of Puerto Rican origin had posted a photo of the same on Facebook. Upon asking what the ingredients were, a Hispanic guy I didn’t even know said “Pasteles are plantains fried with bits of cats, dogs and horses in them.” To somebody coming from a racially homogenous country, the reply sounded rather acerbic, but I never spoke of it. From comments on Facebook to a professor calling me a ‘Freeloader’ at my own party, I’ve dealt with my share of racial abuse. I wonder how many worse racist comments/jokes go unreported. Do international students just stomach all this and pretend it doesn’t hurt? I’m glad that racism wasn’t listed on ISV’s list of ‘Most common problems encountered by an international student in the U.S.’, but it still remains a sensitive issue. Over the past couple of years, racist comments on international students have created a lot of buzz. Students of OSU have been very vocal on Twitter. “The Indian next to me at the gym smells like a curry covered butt hole!” one of them reads. Other instances include “Go back home” painted on a Chinese student’s car. “I have nothing against citizens from Afghanistan, China, Iran, Iraq or Turkey. I just truly believe that nearly $7 million of taxpayer money should not be spent to educate students who could, in the near future, become the enemy.”- A KSU newspaper article said. LOL. No, we international students pay a LOT of money. It is startling to see that such prejudice still exists at major universities. Students continue to face discrimination. Stereotyping is still prevalent. Are these handful examples a part of a bigger picture that the universities

have a problem dealing with? American universities have created various programs in a bid to bridge the gap between American and international students. I happen to go to one such amazing university, The University of Cincinnati. From coffee hours to studentretreats, the change is evident. I’ve spoken to several international students here and they say that they have amazing local and other international friends. Despite all this, people are still uncomfortable talking about race. It’s a very touchy subject. Lack of an open dialogue about racism and related issues seems to leave the international students thinking that it is not ethical to talk about race, which is understandable. UC seems to have identified this issue very early and has come up with an *amazing* racial awareness program known as RAPP. It focuses on educating students about racial justice, social positioning, and building crosscultural communication skills, etc. through experiential learning. I was privileged to be a part of RAPP’s 5 day program called Accelerating Racial Justice that mainly dealt with providing people an open dialogue to talk about races, explore and enhance the understanding of racial justice to build a strong community at UC. I now have a better understanding of various perspectives and intentions; I hope to share this with other international students so that they don’t feel like an outcast here in the U.S. That said, to say that America is a racist country based on a handful of scattered instances is completely wrong. All Americans are not racist, but “racism doesn’t exist here at all” would also be an ill judged and unwise statement. It still is one of the problems that international students face. Maybe most of us are not ready to talk about it yet.







here are many challenges that we, as international students, face while studying in Ohio. Having to adjust to different conditions such as food, language or weather, are well-known examples of these challenges. I do not want to explain these obvious challenges. Rather, I will emphasize the difficulty of deciding what to do after living in the United States, which I believe is a process that induces an extra level of anxiety that most Americans do not face. “The grass looks greener on the other side” and with this thought, we left the comfort zone of our home countries hoping to find “our life path”. This can be translated into seeking a better education, a better job, a more peaceful environment, equal rights, or simply following a loved one who is living in the U.S. No matter what the reason was that made us come to this country, it is a fact that since day one we have had to face challenges that we were not expecting.

“The way of living we have become accustomed to in the U.S. sometimes makes it difficult for us to return to our own countries no matter how much we miss them.” At some point, we ask ourselves: is the grass truly greener in the U.S.? We start comparing our countries to the U.S., and we sometimes have mixed feelings of regret, hope, sadness, anxiety and happiness that make us feel completely lost. This is the start of getting to know ourselves better. We become more down to earth as we question ourselves and overcome the difficult challenges we encounter in this country. So, after a while we begin to understand the American way of living, we start to feel a certain level of accomplishment for overcoming many difficulties, and we create a new comfort zone. 15

International Student Voice Magazine

However, new decisions that are going to change our lives arise once again. The anxiety of finding an answer to the common question of “what are you going to do when you graduate?” chases us with more intensity than Americans. Again, we have to make another difficult decision that will not only affect our future, but also the future of our family. We become accustomed to the way of living in the U.S. and it makes it difficult for us to return to our own countries no matter how much we miss them. Nevertheless, we are aware that newer and bigger challenges will arise if we decide to stay in the U.S. Once more a blurred future awaits us. I cannot recommend a solution right now since I am in the process of finding my own. However, what we should do is think carefully of what we want to accomplish in life. Even if we do not have a clear picture of the future, we should simply try to find whatever makes us happy. It can sometimes be very difficult to find what we feel passionate about, and even if we find our passion it is even harder to calculate the extent to which we are willing to risk following our passions. This uncertainty increases our fears and anxiety, but we should not let them defeat us. We can turn our insecurities into power. Instead of seeing them as obstacles, we should view them as encouraging factors that make us look for more opportunities, and more networking that can lead to more possibilities. It’s important to remain calm, be patient, and get back to basics. Eventually, with time and effort, we will come up with the answer that we are looking for.

“This country gives us an opportunity to be something we never could be back home: Truly yourself.”





fter a long plane journey of about 22 hours, numerous hours of layovers and scrunching through customs and immigration checks, who look at you with little respect and utmost suspicion (just because your skin is brown?) and ask you the same redundant questions repeatedly. All the horror stories you have heard about the immigration personnel holding people up for hours (sometimes days) or worse, buying you a return ticket with your own credit card and sending you back, come to mind and you try to hold your peace and not panic. In the other lines, you see people with American

passports walking away after cruising through the queues. This is the first time you actually realize you are not in your own country anymore. The plane that you boarded in your country somehow masked the effect. This is how foreign and secondary you will feel for the rest of your stay in this “Land of opportunities”. “Welcome to America”, you hear the voice of the immigration official greet you and some 15 minutes later you are in! Euphoria! Ecstasy! Is this really America?! Am I really here? For most of us that land here, we see ourselves as the next fable to be told in our families, with our parents gloating among their peers, “My son is in America, he is doing his M.S.” Not more than a few weeks pass before we slowly start to notice the emptiness that has crept into our hearts. You feel more Indian than you ever did before. Your melancholy turns more into a nostalgia you feel for your country, your family, your friends, even for your college girlfriend/ special friend you secretly had. The chilly weather of Ohio, the dark days, the lonely streets, the walking for long distances, the numerous errands that you now have to take care of, the things that you never even thought of before, all come into the picture. The conversion ratio of 60:1 becomes your best ally when you are shopping for anything. Google becomes your best friend; YouTube, the only link to your culture back home. The noisy streets, the busy cinemas, the packed up shopping malls are not so tiring any more. College, your education, your career, which is the main reason, the primum objectum that you are here for, seems like a very small part of your life now. This is “culture shock”. Most people don’t even realize that we are going through this. It all happens subconsciously and we never can pin it down to anything in particular, and we learn to accept this new sober self as the new ‘me’. But there is hope. This is a new phase of our lives. The very few campus jobs, the fear of

drowning in our student loans, not getting a job after we graduate will always be haunting us. But we are here to do something amazing. Let us be proud of being us. Let us shake away that conscious cloud that haunts us everywhere. Yes, we sound different, we have accents, but no person that deserves your respect will gauge you or your whole country based on how well you speak in a language that is not your own. This country is more than that. This country gives us an opportunity to be something we never could be back home: Truly yourself. Find your purpose. As Vivekananda said, “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; dream of it; think of it; live on that idea. Let the brain, the body, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.” If we concentrate on this one thing, our primum objectum, everything else will follow. Life becomes easy and America becomes amazing. We immigrants are and always will be the greatest part of the story of America. We are the injection of new energy into its society that made USA the ‘shining city on the hill’.





irst of all, I am glad to have the

opportunity to address this topic. I feel it makes more sense for me as an international student to share my experience and challenges, rather than just writing an essay of common aspects with a universal point of view. I have grown accustomed to writing on such wearisome topics with the hopes of earning a scholarship, and I am thankful to have the opportunity to reestablish the passion in my writing through the reflection of my experiences while studying abroad in the United States.

It all started with the dream of pursuing higher education in the United States: the country that offers the best research based education in the world. Human life is all about facing challenges and acting accordingly. I envisioned coming to the United States for my Mastery studies in electrical engineering because I wanted to make my family proud. No one in my family had ever earned a master’s degree and I wanted to be the first. After taking the procedural entrance exams, the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL), I received admission into the international program. Because of my academic accomplishments in my undergraduate studies in India, I was accepted to four universities in the United States. It was difficult for me to decide which university to attend; knowing that whichever choice I made it would affect my future professional career and possibly the rest of my life. I eventually decided to pursue my graduate studies at the University of Akron with the promise of a full scholarship. In August 2011, my dream to study in the United States became a reality when I travelled across seven rivers from India to Akron, Ohio. The first and foremost challenge was being away from my friends and family. I prepared for this. I knew if I were to pursue 17

International Student Voice Magazine

my dream I would have to make sacrifices. However, leaving home was still the most difficult challenge. Departing from my family and seeing my mom cry at the airport tested my emotions. I did not know it at the time, but I would not see my family again for twenty-seven months. As I boarded the plane, the realization hit me that for the first time in my entire twenty-one years of my life I was completely on my own. I did not have one friend or even a familiar face waiting for me in the U.S., in fact I was dependent on the good faith of a guy I met on Facebook through the Indian Student Association to pick me up when I landed in Cleveland. I controlled my emotions by focusing on my education, but at times the homesickness would overwhelm me especially around my birthday or the holidays. But I knew I wanted to pursue my dream in the United States more than anything, and I was willing to overcome any obstacles that would get in the way to achieve my goal. I was finally in the land of opportunities, research and technology and I was going to embrace it.

The second challenge was becoming accustomed to everyday life in the United States. Everything is new, the weather, the people and the food. I never witnessed snow in my entire life, as I come from a country, where sixty degrees Fahrenheit is winter weather; however, winter in Ohio was indeed a pleasant experience. Like most international

students, I opted out of living on campus because of the extra expenses. My initial living arrangement in the United States was in an apartment that I shared with a roommate. Although it was a slight comfort my roommate was from my home country and that we shared a common goal, I still had to get used to living with a complete stranger. Another challenge I had to endure was getting accustomed to the American accent. In India, British English is completely different from American English. While in a country where you do not know anyone, but you know you have to be there to pursue your dreams, you need to learn their culture, get socialized, and make new friends. Yet another challenge I faced was travelling. This was the most minuscule of my problems, but also the most inconvenient. Because I did



not have a car or a license, I had to rely on friends for transport or on public transportation.

I have been to other foreign countries, but I have to agree that people in United States are very friendly and sweet, at least the people whom I have come across so far. It’s sometime hard to get that love and affection from people from completely different culture. I think it also depends on your actions how you approach and behave. I was lucky enough to earn a scholarship, but many international students do not get lucky enough to earn one, so they have to find a job on campus which are very few because they are on a student visa status. I want to share my experience and how I tackled all my challenges. I still remember the days when I started my Master’s in August 2011; it was a unique feeling that cannot be expressed. It has been a wonderful journey so far. I have been through several ups and downs throughout the process, but I never gave up. Even though I earned a scholarship, I faced many challenges in the beginning of my Master’s studies. If you do not have a good academic advisor, your life can become a living hell. That is what happened to me. I had to face harassment from my advisor at the initial stages of the program. Even though I had the promise of a scholarship before starting school, I did not get a scholarship and worked an obscene amount of hours for him. So, I had to pay for tuition of the first semester from my pocket. After, enduring several occurrences of harassment, I made the decision to switch advisors. The problems resolved, but I had a new equally important problem, my department would treat me differently. I desperately needed a job; unfortunately I was not able to find one in the middle of the semester. I survived in the United States for about six months without a dollar in my pocket. I just had never given up. I tried to keep a positive attitude. God always tests how his children can sustain and face challenges and criticism. You discover the reality of life when you are going through a tough phase. The health center at school said I lost twenty-five pounds due to stress and said I may go into depression. I just had to keep my faith that I was going to rise above it all. The day of justice came, I proved to myself and to my university department of my capabilities. I earned a scholarship thereafter, successfully completed all my Master’s course requirements with 3.5 GPA, completed my Master’s thesis project, wrote two successful book publications, one journal paper publication, and now I

am aiming to defend and earn my Master’s degree within a month from now. I think I am close to my dream. I feel I have literally faced every single challenge that any international student could ever anticipate. I believe I was at the right place, with the right attitude, and with the right people who motivated and loved me to come along this far. I have learned one lesson about life from my experiences. God just wants to test everyone on how easily we can withstand any challenge thrown in front of

us and the person who can face it and still be strong rises above all. “If you want to achieve something in your life you need to work towards it and earn it.”



’m Tsogbayar Tuvden, an international student from Mongolia at the University of Findlay, Ohio. Any time, if I will be asked to describe my life and experience in the United States, I would say “appearance is different from reality”. I personally believe that people in this earth think that America is a dream country. The reason why is that they think if they come and live in United States they’ll face no challenge and difficulty. As an international student, the first challenge I have faced was how I felt when I was looked stereotypical Asian when Americans saw me. One month later, I had to go to Bureau of Motor Vehicles to take a road test in Findlay, Ohio and asked my only American guy to help me out who seemed to be polite in the class. I could see his face really shocked and he asked me do you know how to drive? You ride a horse when you go to school and work, don’t you? It wasn’t easy for me to deal with that because when I meet new people from different countries in my country, I try to understand and learn their culture before I interact with them. The reason why is that if I tell something wrong about them and their country, it would hurt their feeling. If I were the American guy, I

“I cannot just sit and hope for someone else to make things better. One step can make a huge difference and it’s me. I have to take that step.” 19

International Student Voice Magazine

wouldn’t be that sure about something that I don’t know well. And I had not only this situation but also had many other situations like that. However I felt bad and discouraged to be an international student in the United States at first, but later I realized it’s not that local people do or say something like that in order to make someone feel hurt. Therefore I thought I am the only one to influence and change their thoughts and beliefs of my country and I decided to be a representative and make others know and understand my country’s culture and everything. I started to believe that I have to stand for the cause if I expect to see any betterment. There’s a saying that “Don’t wait things to get better, but go out and make them better”. Therefore I cannot just sit and hope for someone else to make things better. One step can make a huge difference and it’s me that I have to take that step. I strongly believe that if I get this scholarship it will be contributed for my education and make it easier for me and my parents to pay for my tuition. However the long trip of life that I will go through to achieve my dream will not be easy but this scholarship will be great help for me to shine in the darkness and to smile in the sadness.



Me with classmates learning hospitality

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International Student Voice Magazine

y name is Urangoo Odgerel and now I am a graduate student majoring in MBA at the University of Findlay, Findlay, Ohio. I came from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Since I came to this place I have been facing several challenges as an International Student. The very first thing that I have faced right after the arriving was stereotype. How we, international students, expect of America? It is mostly true that we think of Hollywood movies, TV serials and programs that we daily watch; tall buildings and all those places you have fun; huge universities and colleges where you are always busy. Certainly, I had had all those stereotypes. However, Findlay was a small town with no high and tall buildings but within blue sky up high. I was looking for all those miracles that I have been expecting. I saw many international students just like me had the same stereotype and they would become frustrated about the reality and prefer staying home. The reason is they would think there is nothing to see and watch, think negatively about the place. However, the solution became for me people. People in this town are so friendly and trustworthy. When you know all those good people and make friends it is not such a boring place at all! Thinking positive about your circumstances can ease the situation a lot. Now I am enjoying my studies, people and the beautiful nature here. The second challenge of mine was language. I still remember how uncomfortable and embarrassed I was standing in front of the McDonald’s cashier. A person with a TOEFL

score of 87 could not understand the whole sentence but catch the words. In US people talk fast. That was my experience. Then I tried to avoid going to social places where it would make me interact with someone. Plus, I realized that there are many international students who were staying home afraid, just like me, getting nervous when they talk on the phone and having conversations with an American. Furthermore, there were students who could not improve their English skills just because of that fear. That seemed not acceptable for me. We always have to remind ourselves we are here to improve. My solution is to step out from your

“I realized that there are many international students who were staying home afraid, just like me, getting nervous when they talk on the phone and having conversations with an American.” comfort zone and encourage others to do the same. Never wait for someone to come to you, but make the first step and be friends with Americans. Always staying home with students from the same country will not help you reach your goal. Now I am not afraid of going to McDonald’s. Another problem I have faced was research papers. Professors would say we have to write a paper with APA style. I clearly remember wondering. “What is that?” As it

Winner! is in my country’s education system, I waited for specific instructions and did not start my paper. Later on, I realized that people already started doing their assignments. We have to act for ourselves. It is not that the professor does not want to help you, it is just he/she does not know that we need help. We have to seek the information by ourselves. By starting research, I found there were several clubs that help students learn about APA style and how to do the research papers. The college, university, faculties, and professors

they never forget you. They provide you everything, but you just have to stand up and carefully watch what is going on around your campus and everywhere else. At the conclusion, I would say there are so many challenges that we face, but we have to go forward no matter what. There is my favorite saying, “If it does not challenge you, it does not change you.”




Winter 2014 Issue of International Student Voice Magazine  

This issue features our 10 international student finalists for our $300 scholarship. Additional articles feature Margaret Wong, a successful...

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