While it can be difficult for international students to pursue an education in the U.S given differences in American culture and education systems, sometimes the distance can be liberating.
When sophomore Tehreem Anwar writes emails to her professors, she does not address them by their name, but as: “Respected Professor” — a custom from her home country Pakistan.
“It’s just that if my parents saw me writing like, ‘Hi John’ or, ‘Hi whatever the professor’s name is’, they’re gonna be like, ‘Okay, have we taught you no respect at all for your elders?’” Anwar said.
Associate Director of International Student Services Rebecca Eckart said one of the biggest challenges for international students can be acclimating to the differences in education systems. Before U.S.-resident students arrive on campus, Eckart helps run a three-day orientation specifically designed for international students. The orientation holds workshops about the attendance and participation-based culture of Knox’s academics — along with language assessments, shopping trips and communication presentations (including American idioms and expressions).
“Some [international] students are coming from systems where their grade is mostly based on testing, and some students are really not familiar with the type of interactive classroom we have here and those are really big adjustment pieces for students,” Eckart said.
However it is not just the academic culture that requires acclimation but American social culture as well. Anwar said things she finds funny might not be funny to someone in another culture. Also, issues that she might have … such as a change in the conversion rate between the U.S dollar and the Pakistani rupee — are unique to her status as an international student. For this reason Anwar is thankful she has friends at Knox from Pakistan.
“For me it’s relatively easier because there’s a lot of other Pakistani students on campus but people who are from a country where they are the only one, they have it more difficult than me because I still have a small community where I can share the same traditions and my culture with,” Anwar said.
Eckart said there are over 200 international students, with recent increases from places such as Vietnam, Pakistan, Nepal and India. Eckart also said it is important for international students to understand what is required to maintain their student visas.
Student visas cover the time required to complete an education, typically four years, and students can apply for one additional year for experience in the field. In total, student visas grant a standard of five years. However, if an international student majors in a STEM field, they can apply for two additional years in the field, granting a raise in their sum to seven years in the U.S. According to Eckart, computer science and economics are the two largest majors for international students at Knox.
While some international students attend Knox for a STEM education, senior Amir Maharjan enjoys that Knox enables him to pursue his passion: philosophy. Born in Nepal, Maharjan has always been interested in a variety of topics Ñ his mother liked to refer to him as a jack of all trades, master of none. Once he came to Knox, he started taking philosophy classes, two at a time.
“I feel like I’m lucky being an international student because I don’t have to worry what my extended family thinks I’m doing,” Maharjan said. “Like if they knew I was studying philosophy they might say, ‘get a job.’”
Maharjan believes festivals like Flunk Day are important for Knox, and wishes there could be more which bring together disparate various members of the Knox community.
“How often do we find fraternity people hanging out with art people?” Maharjan said about Flunk Day.
Anwar would also like to see less attention emphasized on the differences between individuals on campus. Though Anwar said she does not expect all people to pronounce her name correctly, she does not believe where she comes from is important — all students at Knox are pursuing the same thing: an education.
“You just don’t want to directly ask that question [‘where are you from?’] no matter how pressing it is for you. Especially in academics, it’s definitely not important like if you’re working on group project and you’re doing other stuff it’s just whatever you bring to the plate,” Anwar said.