Contributor reporter: Andre Reyes-Aguilar.
The gardens are so beautiful; everything looks so clean. Everyone seems to be nice and willing to smile at any stranger for no reason. The buildings on this campus are unique. Unique because there are no graffiti drawings on the walls. Unique because there are no broken windows. Unique because there are no students smoking in the hallways while using inappropriate verbiage. The environment that this campus radiates is impressive. All expectations are met for those that came from far, far away.
For some, coming here was easy. Not too much effort was required. They applied, they were accepted and they came. But for others, coming here was more complicated than that. After accepting the offer, a visa application and deposit were required. A leap of faith and a desire to come and explore the unknown in a different culture soon led them to arrive in the U.S. and be part of this experience.
Many international students, like myself, take a shot in the dark and leave their hometowns in hope of obtaining a great education surrounded by others that share their same values and beliefs.
It takes courage to leave our families behind and live in a foreign land where everything seems to be bigger, where everything seems to be nicer, where everyone seems to be successful and where everyone seems to have no trouble going after their dreams.
“I really admire international students,” said Jared Payne, a sophomore studying international studies and music. “I could have never gone to school in a different language.”
According to the Migration Policy Institute, in 2017, the United States hosted about 1.1 million of the 4.6 million international students enrolled worldwide. The number of international students in the U.S. is constantly increasing and BYU-Idaho is not an exception. Last winter, BYU-I had 3,403 international students, as opposed to the 2,545 students who attended the year before.
International students come to BYU-Idaho with high expectations of academic, personal and professional development. However, many of these international students find it hard to adapt to college life in a different culture.
“I had a really hard time adapting to the American culture when I first came to Rexburg,” said Pamela Campelo. “I didn’t appreciate how people often made general assumptions about where I was from.”
Questions and comments like “Where in Mexico are you from?” or “You don’t look Canadian, you look American” are often asked and expressed to international students. Many have learned to laugh and ignore it, while others take deep offense from these comments.
American slang and idioms are hard to follow for many international students as well, even for those with English as their native language. Nicole Tracy, a junior from England studying special education, mentioned that Americans have a unique way of speaking.
“It took me a couple semesters to get used to their verbiage,” Tracy said. “It was odd for me to see how improper and casual they are with their words.”
Words and sentences like “yikes,” “dope,” “swag,” “let’s pitch in” and “are you catching my drift?” have hidden meanings that might be hard to understand.
“When I heard my roommate say, ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we get there’ I got confused, and thought, ‘bridge? like what bridge?’” Santiago Camargo, a freshman from Colombia said.
Homesickness is another big challenge faced by international students.
“Everything here is beautiful, and everyone is so nice but there is no place like home,” Tracy said.
Battling homesickness can be difficult to deal with, but easy to overcome.
“A good way to overcome this is by befriending students that are familiar with your own culture,” Tracy said. “You will be surprised at how quickly these friends will become an important part of your life.”
However, something that I have found helpful is to not be selective with your friendships. Becoming friends with American students, and not only other international students, will help you better understand their culture and you will learn idioms and slang words that will help you adapt more easily.
“Most of my friends are international,” said Joshua Peters, a sophomore studying communication. “I always learn so much from them. They sacrificed a lot to come here and I try to be supportive with their educational pursuits and their desire to be here and to gain a better education.”
International students understand that gaining a better education comes with a price. Many international students face financial challenges, but as Camargo said, “at the end it all works out.” BYU-I provides academic and general scholarships and on-campus employment opportunities.
“I was really worried when I first came to BYU-Idaho,” said Jose Valenzuela, a freshman from Guatemala studying business management. “I had no idea how to find ways to afford tuition, housing and even dates, but I am grateful for scholarships and jobs available for students on campus.”
Regardless of financial challenges or communication barriers, international students encounter when they arrive to BYU-I, feeling out of place is always a big challenge that many seem to never overcome. This phenomenon has led many to quit and return back to their home countries. Sometimes, I myself feel discouraged and out of place. However, I always find ways to feel better and enjoy my experience as an international student.
“International students need to recognize that we love them!” Peters said. “They make my experience at BYU-Idaho more fun and enjoyable.”
Many students attending BYU-I really enjoy having international students on campus.
“Every time … I hang out with international students, I am reminded of my time as a missionary,” Payne said. BYU-Idaho is a melting pot. Students come from different backgrounds and have different ideas that make this place more fun and interesting.
“I love being part of BYU-Idaho,” said Bryson Lund, a sophomore studying design and construction management. “I love that our school has a variety of students with different backgrounds and cultures. International students make this place more fun and interesting. We, as Americans, tend to look things a certain way, and it is nice to become more cultured and aware of the world beyond what we already know.”