After 6 months: from Kenya, China and Saudi Arabia

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EAST LANSING, Mich.- When Ruth Osoro first came to Michigan last summer, she was surprised that everyone was wearing shorts.

“You’re not supposed to wear shorts in Kenya. That’s immoral,” she said.

Osoro is a first-year graduate student majoring in communication at Michigan State University (MSU). Born in a land which lies on the Equator, this winter is her “first winter.” And she’s not going to get used to it. “I hate the cold.”

The transition from one culture to another is an inevitable process every international students experiences.

In 2018, MSU had more than 6,000 international students from 140 countries, or 12.4 percent of all students, according to a report from MSU’s Office for International Students and Scholars.

Studying far from home means one has to adapt to the lifestyle of the new country. This process can be challenging.

“Initially I felt out of place,” Osoro, 25, said. “Things are really new and I was stressed and homesick.”

For example, things are different when it comes to transportation. In Kenya, Osoro used to see people walking everywhere.

“But here everybody’s driving,” she said. “When I’m walking around, I feel so out of place because I’m the only one walking on the streets.”

She was also confused by the CATA bus at first.

She had $20 with her that day and gave it directly to the driver. “The driver was surprised and she said that there’s a machine where you can put the money in, and $20 is so big,” Osoro said. “She saw I was new and gave me a free ride.”

To Qucheng Zhang, an environmental journalism Ph.D. student from China, the university’s party tradition shocked him at first.

“People get drunk and they are singing and screaming all through the night,” Zhang, 26, said. “The first two months were tough for me because sometimes I just can’t stand the noise.”

The quality of education is a main reason for international students to continue their study in the U.S., said Osoro.

According to The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019, there are 41 U.S. universities on the list of top 100 universities worldwide, and Michigan State University is one of them.

Osoro said she always wanted to study outside her own country because Kenya’s education system is in chaos compared with that of the U.S..

“In Kenya, they just care that after a semester is over you do your final exam and you pass,” she said, “They encourage cramming instead of really reading and understanding.”

She said she feels the study environment here is “very good” and professors encourage students to think critically. “You have to read before class and think deeply about what you’ve read, and then form an opinion about it by yourself,” she said.

Also, the tradition of calling professors by their first name shocked Osoro. In Kenya, students are not supposed to do that. “I think it’s a very good thing when it comes to education because at least it makes the professor approachable, right?” she said.

One reason Zhang chose to study at MSU is it gives him more freedom compared with studying in China, especially in the journalism field.

“In China, if you try to criticize the government or the authority in your studies, you may be forced to revise your article or you would just be banned from the journals. And you will face pressure from the school board as well,” Zhang said.

For Mustafa Alobaidi, a first-year undergraduate from Saudi Arabia studying mechanical engineering, coming to MSU from Saudi Arabia wasn’t just for the quality of education.

He finished high school and then came to U.S.

“I can study in my home country but I don’t want to, because I want to learn how to be independent, to be responsible,” he said. “Like how to cook for myself, pay my own bills and stuff like that.”

Getting involved in the local community can be difficult for international students due to a lot of factors, such as language barriers, cultural differences and personalities.

Vicky Wai-yee Lee, a student engagement coordinator at OISS, said that working on campus is a good way to help international students get involved.

“Regardless of whether you’re working in an office setting or you’re working as a research assistant for a professor or just in the cafeteria supporting the operation of the dining halls,” Lee said.

“I do think that being able to interact with the more diverse population would definitely help you practice your ability to start small talk to interact with people from more diverse background and really to open your eyes and start being comfortable speaking English and stuff like that,” she said.

This story is part of package on the experience of international students after their first six months at Michigan State.

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