(From left) Lizhi Ding, Suelynn Lau and Baran Arig during a Peer2Peer sunday meeting

Studying in the United States is a dream that most foreign students want to realize but adapting to the American lifestyle might be the most challenging experience for some of them. If some students had a great first experience at Temple University, others had cultural issues which made their first experience less pleasant.

“Approximately 3,325″ non-domestic students representing “at least 49 countries”, attend Temple University, accordingto the University’s International Student Report. China, India, and Kuwait are the top three most represented countries at Temple.

The first two months of the Fall semester has not been stress-free for some students from countries such as, Iran and China. Cultural and linguistic differences made their first experience harder at Temple University.

Vahid Alizadeh is from Iran. In September his acclimatization phase was even harder than he believed it would be. “I had a hard time when I first arrived at Temple University. Their way of doing things was a little difficult to follow but, step-by-step, I made friends from different countries and finally I’m doing great”, said Alizadeh.

Vahid Alizadeh at Tech Center

However, Al­izadeh claimed that he does not worry too much about food on campus because he and his Iranian colleague cook their own traditional food.

Suelynn Lau is an exchange student from China; her first months in the United States were marked by anxiety.

Her frustration is due to the fact that she thinks her English is not perfect enough to en­gage in candid conversa­tions with native Americans. “I don’t have their ac­cent that’s why I’m silent,” she whispered during the interview.

“I would say the first half year coming here was hard for me, not only hard to follow the professors, but also my roommates who are all Ameri­cans. Our cultures are so dif­ferent that I didn’t hang out with them that often,” Lau said.

Having only one year left to study at Temple University, Lau regrets the fact that she will not be able to get clos­er to her roommates any longer.

(From left) Leah Hetzell, Director of ISA, and Marena Ariffin, Assistant Director

“What makes me regret is we didn’t get very close to one another. I’m actually not afraid to speak English with them; but just sometimes we all feel embarrassed when we don’t understand each other; so… I didn’t speak much with them; still, they are nice people”, she said.

When it comes to food, Sue Lynn said she wished she had more options of healthy food instead of the routine food on campus.

Despite her anxious first months in the United States, Lau admits that she feels free in America, both “from the inside and the outside.”

Unlike Alizadeh and Lau, Jonathan Götting, Xynue Hu, and Mohammad Mohammad, respectively from Germany, China, and Sudan, did not have anything to worry about in terms of day-to-day life at Temple University.

“I have to say, so far, I’ve really not missed my home that much. I was pretty much prepared for this experience. I did a lot of research, and I knew in general, how life on an American campus is…, so I feel well-connected”, claimed Götting.

Although he was surprised by the costs of food at the nearest grocery store, Götting, said that he “was really prepared for that,” since stu­dents from his University back home shared reports about U.S food prices with him, prior to his trip to Philadelphia last August.

Jonathan Götting, international student from Germany.
Xinyue Hu, international student from China and Peer2Peer fellow.

“They told me ‘be prepared, the prices are [going to] be high’, and my parents told me that I might need some more money for food… In Germany, we usually eat bread and a lot of cheese in the evening. But I have to stop with that behavior because cheese is more expensive here than [it is] in Germany… I started to cook my meal to avoid spending more mon­ey,” Götting said.

Coming from Sudan Mohammad Mohammad had a different treatment since he was subsequently granted asylum and would later be enjoying the same privileges as domestic students.

Being aware of the difficulties faced by non-domestic students, Temple University established an office in charge of international students.

(From left) Leah Hetzell, Director of ISA, and Marena Ariffin, Assistant Director

Managed by Leah Hetzell, director, and Marena Ariffin, Assistant, the office of International Student Affairs (ISA) was created in 2016.

According to Ms. Hetzell, the primary role of the office is to make sure students feel comfortable in every aspect of life on campus and beyond.

“Coming to study in another world can be really difficult”, she said, “we are here…ready to help student for that and figure out what [we can do] better,” said Ms. Hetzell.

The ISA is supervised by Temple’s office of International Affairs (IA) and partly funded through international students’ fees and different other offices, according to Ms. Hetzell.

The office keeps students informed by means of emails, phone calls and social media.

Among ISA’s many programs to help first-time and other international students, there is “international coffee Hour”, for cultural exchange, and “Peer2Peer”, to help incoming non-domestic students get familiar with things on campus.

Abhijay Shekhawat, Zambian student

“We reach out to the new students, if they need further support on campus…[or] just life in general in the U.S. basically, we have, like, sixty-seven… Peer2Peer leaders, who meet with students in groups on a weekly basis.”, said Ms. Ariffin.

The primary role of Peer2Peer is to help students build connections, and “be aware that they have access” to on-campus resources, said Ms. Ariffin.

(From left) Lizhi Ding, Suelynn Lau and Baran Arig during a Peer2Peer Sunday meeting

Baran Arig, one of the leaders of Peer2Peer who is currently enrolled as a senior student in biology said that his interest in mentoring international students stems from his personal “study abroad” experience.

“I went in ‘study abroad’ in South Korea, at Ewha University. When I went there, I was really lost; my [college] was able to do so much for me, and that helped me get through the culture. Ever since that, I came back and I learned about this Peer2Peer program and I really want to give back”, claimed Arig.

Given his personal experience, Baran Arig was able to mentor a couple of international students for a month, helping them become accustomed to certain things on campus and beyond.

Xinyue Hu, international student from China and Peer2Peer fellow.

However, Xinyue Hu, one of the participants in the program under Arig’s mentorship seems unsatisfied with the procedure. He was expecting something different than what he has experienced during the program.

“I [joined Peer2Peer] to establish good relationship with everyone in the group, but at the end, I think, I didn’t”, said Hu. “Most of our meetings [were] pure talking… It’s hard for new international students to adapt just with talking. It [would be better] if we could do something like social games; everybody would get involved”, he pursued.

Similarly, Abhijay Shekhawat, a Zambian student who has been studying at Temple university since 2017 thinks that the procedure adopted by Peer2Peer leaders do not help new international students learn American ways at all.

Abhijay Shekhawat, Zambian student

“To be honest, there was more of ‘let’s go to this restaurant, let’s go to that restaurant’ It’s fine at first, when you are [in] your freshman year, exploring places like new restaurants. But it didn’t really give international students a perspective of the city or America, or anything [like] that…I thought that ISA was going to help international students [understand America], but it wasn’t like that…”, said Shekhawat who has equally worked for the office.

When it comes to monthly international coffee hours, some students think that the office should consider other countries, even though the latter are not well represented on campus in terms of number.

“the majority of students here are from Asia, I see why they do it…but I mean it’s not just the big country, I mean like ‘oh we got fifteen people from China let’s do China’, you know. You got that one person from Zambia, pick on that”, said Shekhawat who thinks that he could share the Zambian culture at an international coffee hour if the opportunity was given to him.

Like Shekhawat, a couple of other students want their cultures represented at Temple University during International Coffee Hours.

Mohammed Mohammed Sudanese student

Mohammed Mohammed, a freshman student from Sudan, said he is ready to share the African culture at Temple University.

“Our cultures are so similar, it’ll be easier to make an event to represent the cultures of all countries of Africa”, he said.

Vahid Alizadeh equally thinks that the ISA should also celebrate the Iranian New Year, an event that happens in March of each year.  Next year it will happen on March 20.

“[They] should seek to know the history of places we come from. I remember that they had an event about Chinese based on their calendar. Actually, we [Iranians] have our own calendar too”, said Alizadeh.

“We have different kinds of events. One of the best events is our ‘New Year’. Our new year basically starts with Spring not in January. I think it would be a better idea for International Student Affairs to celebrate these kinds of huge events that we have in our culture”, he suggested.

Likewise, Jonathan Götting, a graduate student from Germany wants to talk about his country and his culture at Temple University too.

“I would like to go against all these stereotypes that exist about Germany. They all [think] that we drink beer all the time; it’s not entirely true; of course we all have food specialty from the Northern part of Germany where I’m from, although I’m not able to get the ingredients; but that’s something that I can represent here”, said Götting.

In reaction to the students’ concerns, Ms. Ariffin said the office does not self-reliantly decide on which country to choose for their monthly international coffee hours.

“It usually comes from the request of the students themselves. We’re trying not to come out and say, ‘let’s do Korea, let’s do Vietnam’ just because it’s cool, [no]”, she said. “We really want to make this something that’s driven by students; the need, right? So, when students come to us and say, ‘I need my country to be represented in these coffee hours, then we make this happen”, She pursued.


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