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International students transition to American life

Posted on September 30, 2013
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While many students will learn a foreign language or study abroad for a semester, few will spend their undergraduate or graduate years immersed in a university somewhere else on
the globe.

International graduate students make up approximately 4,000 of the more than 50,000 students at Texas A&M, said Bill Taylor, director of international student services. Having spent the majority of their lives in another country, this small portion of the Texas A&M population faces a level of challenges not often experienced by the average graduate student.

Taylor said international graduate students must take an English proficiency test for admittance into the University and that admitted students are able to communicate well in an academic setting.

“They have the ability to come to another school, speak other languages — be able to pursue physics, mathematics, engineering — and do that in a foreign language,” Taylor said. “So they are pretty smart.”
Though they have mastered academic communication, international students often face an entirely different challenge in everyday conversation. Raj Shah, computer engineering graduate student, said even though he knew English when he arrived to Texas in fall 2010, he was not accustomed to idiomatic expressions frequently
used by Americans.
“Nobody says, ‘Nice to meet you,’ in India,” Shah said. “My friend [here] once said ‘Nice to meet you,’ and I was like … ‘Cool.’ It’s just small things, like ‘y’all.’ Those things that were colloquial didn’t make sense to me.”

Xuezhen Wang, chemical engineering graduate student from China, said miscommunication is a problem she and some graduate students share even though she had been in College Station for four years,.

“In China, we sometimes don’t want to express too much,” Wang said. “So probably for me right now, it gives me some trouble, so I try to explain more. We don’t have bad intention, but other people might ask, ‘Why don’t you speak?’”

Jaewook Yoo, computer science graduate student from South Korea, said even though there is an orientation for A&M traditions, many of the students feel uncomfortable when asked to participate in them because of cultural reasons.

“Some people want to go to football games but don’t know how to do that, to find people or friends to go with,” Yoo said. “Most of them don’t know anyone who tailgates. I very recently understood what it is. I still don’t know why they call it, ‘tailgate.’”

Shah said transportation poses another challenge for international graduate students. Although Shah is approaching his third year at A&M, he said he still does not have a driver’s license and has to ask friends for rides or is forced to walk.

“The city doesn’t really have any transportation besides the school buses,” Shah said. “It takes time and I’ve been really busy, so that’s why I haven’t gotten [a driver’s license] yet.”

The question of where they will go after their graduate programs is a frequent concern. Yoo said graduate students are given student visas to come to the University, and a green card or another visa will ultimately determine one’s stay in the U.S. after his or her program is completed.

“It’s hard because the available green cards are kind of limited per year,” Yoo said. “You can apply for green cards, but that does not guarantee you can get a green card because portions are limited.”

Yoo said international graduate students are given a three-month grace period before their student visa is terminated. Yoo said unless a student finds a way to be eligible for a green card prior to graduation or finds a job that will support the green card process, or provide a work visa, the opportunities after college could be difficult.

“If I decide to stay here I will definitely worry about that,” Yoo said.

Allison Rubenak

September 25, 2013

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