By DEBRAH MISZAK
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University is home to almost 30,000 students, and 6,260 international students from 140 countries were enrolled in the fall 2018 semester, according to the Office for International Students and Scholars [OISS].
Of the thousands of international students last fall, 1,302 were new to MSU.
Quy Nguyen, 24, is one of those new students. Her experiences adjusting to Michigan in winter and difficulties forming friendships reflect challenges other international students face in their first six months at MSU.
Nguyen is a Fulbright Scholar who studies French and Religion in American Society while she works as a teacher’s assistant. She’s from Ninh Binh, Vietnam, about two hours from the nation’s capital, Hanoi.
When she arrived in East Lansing, she found it to be different than Ninh Binh.
“I live in a small town compared to here,” she said. “It’s drier here. I came here in August, and it was much drier here than it was in Ninh Binh.”
Palmy Lamsam, 18, is a freshman psychology major from Bangkok, Thailand. She agreed that one of the most striking differences to her is the weather.
Her city is “very busy and hectic compared to East Lansing,” Lamsam said. “Weather-wise, East Lansing has a true, distinct four seasons and is much drier and colder than Bangkok.”
Upon receiving the Fulbright scholarship, Nguyen applied to many U.S. universities. She chose MSU but was apprehensive about the snow. As Michigan was riddled by a polar vortex last week, she was eager to express her disdain for the cold.
“I was really excited to study in America,” Nguyen said. “But they warned me there would be a lot of snow, but that I would like it. So I knew that it was cold and I don’t like being cold, so I was half-excited, half-nervous.”
For some international students, snow is actually a bonus. For example. freshman engineering major Henry Zhou is from Chongqing, a large city in southern China.where snow is uncommon. In fact, snow is one of his favorite aspects of attending MSU.
“My city is more south so I never see the snow,” Zhou, 18, said. “I think the snow is the best part so far, even though it is very cold.”
While language barriers and getting used to American university life have been challenges, all three students said making friends has been especially challenging.
“It is difficult since I am really shy and have different interests from the other students,” Lamsam said. “But since I am an introvert, I like being alone more than being surrounded by people.”
Nguyen feels the same way. She said she feels that the reason it is more difficult to make friends at MSU than in Ninh Binh is because of cultural differences between Vietnam and the United States.
“In my country, we’re less individual,” Nguyen said. “For example, here if you walk into someone or touch each other, you need to say ‘sorry.’ In my country, it’s really formal to do that. We can talk just one time and become friends forever, but here I feel like they are more different. I don’t know how to make true friends here.”
Zhou also agreed that making friends has been challenging because people treat him differently.
“The people are nice, and they are very friendly, but I still feel like I’m kind of an international student. When you talk to them it’s different from the way they talk to American students.”
In spite of that, the students said they aren’t homesick and still feel like they made the right choice in coming to MSU.
Nguyen attributes her success here to travelling a lot before coming.
“This is my first time living far away from home for a long time, but normally — like every two months for the past three years — I go somewhere,” Nguyen said.
“And, I worked in America before for a month and a half. That first time in America was really hard, and I missed my family every day. But this time I was more prepared. I know my family tells me they miss me every day, but to me it feels okay,” she said.
The opportunity for independence from his family was a driving factor in Zhou’s decision attend an American university.
“Part of the reason I decided to study abroad was for the freedom,” Zhou said. “My father is a professor at a university, and he is a very traditional Chinese man. He likes to control everything about my life, and here I have more freedom.”
Lamsam agreed that independence has been a perk of studying abroad.
“I really enjoy the independence I have at MSU. It gives me control of what I do and an opportunity to live in the real world before actually having to do so later,” Lamsam said.
Another reason the distance between many international students and their families is not intolerable is due to the ease with which communication can be achieved via technology.
“Technology has allowed me to video-call my family and friends at home on a regular basis,” Lamsam said. “I also enjoy my time at MSU, so time flies for me.”
This story is part of package on the experience of international students after their first six months at Michigan State.