Going to school in another country can be scary. From cultural differences to language barriers, international students face many challenges. The reward from taking time to visit foreign places, however, is in the experience.
Siena Pacheco is from Carleton University in Ottawa. She is an exchange student at SUNY Plattsburgh. Pacheco is a Global and International Studies major at her home, but at Plattsburgh, she chose to study in the Political Science major. Her program, being International Studies, required that she study abroad for a year to experience other cultures and places. She received the Killam Fellowship scholarship, which is awarded to academically exceptional undergraduates students to become exchange students between Canada and the U.S. This helped Pacheco travel abroad for her program and chose where she would attend school in the U.S.
Q: How did you feel when you first arrived?
Pacheco: Super excited. I realized it was a really small town and not as close to New York City as I originally thought, but I was really excited that the campus was really small.
Q: Did you experience any sort of culture shock when you arrived?
Pacheco: It’s not a very different culture, but I have noticed that we say a lot of things differently than you guys do. Like back home, we say pop instead of soda, I’ve been told I say tomorrow differently, we say washroom compared to bathroom. I’ve also been told that I say “eh” a lot, which is a very Canadian stereotype that is apparently true.
Q: Did you experience any language barrier?
Pacheco: No, I was fully bilingual, French and English, coming here.
Q: Are your classes different here than at your home?
Pacheco: Yeah, taking attendance is really weird. My classes at home are like 300-400 kids. I’ve only been in one class back home that was around 50 kids max. So we don’t take attendance because that would take the whole period. I like having a really small class and 1-on-1 time with profs and being able to build connections with our profs, I found, is a lot more beneficial than being in big classes.
Q: How has living on campus affected your experience?
Pacheco: I lived on campus for my first two years of university and then coming here and living on campus, I thought, would just give me a more immersive experience being on exchange. My roommates are some of my best friends that I’ve met here so it’s great.
Q: Are there differences between living on campus here and at your other school?
Pacheco: It’s not too different than back home. It’s the first time that I’ve had a person in the same room as me. Back home I had my own room and then we shared a kitchen with my roommate, but here I have someone actually in my room which took some getting used to, but it’s the best. I love it.
Q: How did you adjust to living so far away from your home?
Pacheco: Just being able to keep in contact with my friends and family from back home was the biggest thing. I am a very social butterfly, so just putting myself out there and taking advantage of every opportunity that comes while being here was a way to do that. It’s only two hours more than I’m used to so it wasn’t really that big of a difference than what I’m already used to so it wasn’t really that big of a difference and I’ve also taken advantage of breaks and going home to see my family.
Pacheco is from a country that shares a border with the U.S. making the move to a new country less intimidating for her. But what about those who are coming from much farther away and who grew up with cultures significantly different than our own?
Yuki Ouchi is an international student from Okinawa, Japan. She is a junior studying computer science. Ouchi has made the 15 hour journey twice from her home to America so that she can experience life and cultures in other parts of the world.
Q: Why did you choose to come to Plattsburgh?
Ouchi: First of all, Japan is an island, it doesn’t have any countries right next to our country, so I wanted to see other countries and gain some perspective before I get a job and start working because once we start working in Japan, we can no longer go outside the country. I decided to go out before I get my job. Also, in Japan we don’t really learn English, we just learn it for exams, but I really wanted to learn English as my second language, so I decided to go to a country who speak English. I also wanted to learn computer science and the U.S. is a top country in the world so I decided to come here.
Q: What kind of job do you want to get?
Q: Do you struggle with the language difference?
Ouchi: Yeah I do. I am actually a transfer student. I started from my sophomore year and this is my third semester here. The first semester, I was taking some English classes and it helped me improve my English. Still, in other classes, I was like, “I feel like I’m lost.” In the first semester I was taking French and it felt so difficult learning a third language in my second language. That experience was the most difficult one I’ve had in Plattsburgh with English, but I’m getting used to it.
Q: How did you feel when you first arrived?
Ouchi: I’ve never experienced this much cold, so in terms of environment it was harsh for me, but also I faced some cultural differences. In Japan we’re more quiet and so focused on classes and no one will assertively ask questions. I was kind of shocked how students are active in classes, and I liked that. Also, I don’t want to sound crazy, but the food was a problem for me. Asian food and food in the U.S. is so different in taste and ingredients. Now I live off campus and I make food myself.
Q: How do the classes here differ from those at your home?
Ouchi: In U.S. it’s more like student engagement compared to Japan. Also, the distance between students and faculties are kind of closer.
Q: How did you adjust to living here?
Ouchi: It took me some time but I think just spending time with local friends and taking classes with them, and also I have lots of international friends. They came prior to my arrival. They taught me a lot of stuff, like about Plattsburgh and U.S. students, and that helped me adjust to the culture here.
Q: Was it difficult for you to meet people here?
Ouchi: Yeah, especially for me, the language barrier was kind of huge. They don’t mind because U.S. has lots of people from other countries so I think most of them don’t mind my English, but I was more aware of my language. It just made a barrier between people. Like, I just had to realize they don’t care about my English, but more inside of myself.
Taking the leap and moving to another country for school can be intimidating, but the amazing experiences in learning a new culture just may be worth it.