Like many students, Namika Sakai enjoys hanging out with friends, works hard in her classes and worries about her grades. But like 124 other international students enrolled at Clark this quarter, Sakai’s life is quite different from the average American student’s.
Sakai recalled one memory when she was volunteering to help with gardening. Volunteers were asked to divide into groups, but when Sakai tried joining a group she heard a woman call out, “This group is only for American families.”
Sakai first thought she had misunderstood the comment because as an international student from Japan, she was still learning English. But it quickly became clear to her that it was an act of discrimination.
International students often face many unique obstacles, one of the biggest being language. According to the Office of International Programs, at least 94 percent of international students enrolled this quarter come from non-English speaking countries.
“I’m still scared of speaking English with native speakers,” Sakai said, who is now in her ninth and final quarter at Clark. She said she is still self-conscious about her grammar and pronunciation, but this caused her to bond with students who were struggling with similar challenges.
International students must take a placement test to determine if they need to take English classes, according to Jane Walster, director of International Programs.
“Some students are really surprised that they can’t start directly in college-level classes, and that can be really disheartening,” Walster said.
Though college expenses may seem like a common problem for all college students, international students in particular draw the short straw.
They are required to enroll in three consecutive 12-credit quarters and must also prove that they have enough money to live in the United States while attending school. With tuition for international students being almost triple that of in-state residents, this means having almost $20,000 readily available to cover health insurance, books and supplies, housing, meals and other expenses, according to the Office of International Programs.
Furthermore, they have a limited supply of scholarships available to apply for. The Office of International Programs only gives out two scholarships of $500 each year, Walster said. International students have the opportunity to apply for Foundation scholarships, but those are open to all students.
Limiting international students even more is the fact that they can’t legally work outside of Clark. Japanese student and new president of the International Club, Sho Hashimoto, recently faced this problem when looking for an internship.
Hashimoto sought help from the Business department, found an internship, applied and got hired. However, before starting his first day, the Office of International Programs notified Hashimoto that he couldn’t continue because it wasn’t a job at Clark.
“Last week, I finally got that job and the next day–cancelled,” Hashimoto said. “I was in a terrible mood.” He said his daily journal “had lots of f-words” in it.
Many international students experience culture shock, as well. After moving from Brazil, Jose Espindola-Neto noticed that Americans are more friendly towards passersby than he was used to.
“Here they always engage you in conversation … it’s pretty easy to start a conversation with someone,” he said. “Even if you don’t know the person, you say ‘hi.’”
Yuphea Chhean, from Cambodia, didn’t expect the strong eye-contact Americans maintain during conversation, which she said would be considered rude where she’s from.
The main distinction that stood out to Sakai was the relationship between professors and students. She said that teachers here are more friendly and on the same level as students, whereas in Japan they are viewed as being ranked higher than students and deserving of the utmost respect.
Along with a new language, financial difficulties and culture shock, international students have to deal with leaving their family behind, going out on their own and finding a new place to call their home.
Some international students choose to live with a host family, but according to Walster, that’s only about 10 out of the 125 international students at Clark. Others choose to live with relatives or rent an apartment with friends to avoid conflicts associated with living in a host family or to live a more independent life.
Ruixuan Bai, from China, said that moving in with a host family immediately after arriving to the U.S. was a stressful experience that she would not like to relive. Bai said they had arguments about everything from food to feelings.
Espindola-Neto explained the struggle: “It’s hard when you face a lot of problems in another country. You don’t have friends at all, you don’t have your family, you don’t have anyone to support you. You have to count on yourself. That’s the hardest part.”
Going forward, Walster encourages local students to just say hello and try to get to know at least one international student.