American Community Colleges – An International Perspective

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America’s educational institutions garner international respect, and studying in the US gives the student a chance to really learn and use the English language, something essential in the international business world. Knowing what to ask will enable international students to have a productive experience in America. International students have a lot of questions when they come to the US to study. There are technical matters, like how to surf the reams of paperwork and visa regulations. There are practical matters, like where to get food that suits their native tastes. There are educational matters, like how to excel in school while learning to master English. There are spiritual matters, like where to find appropriate religious services, and there are personal matters like how to meet friends and adjust to a new culture.

Many students will miss home. Perhaps they left a loving family or girlfriend/ boyfriend behind. Maybe they have never traveled far and this is all new to them. But no matter what the case, most students agree that the United States is a land of opportunity, and attending college here is the chance of a lifetime. Mitsue Toyama is a 22-year‐old student from Japan studying at SUNY Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY. She said the most important reason for her coming to America was to learn English, which she says she has mastered through watching television and listening to music. For the first six months she was here she did not speak to anyone in English because she felt insecure.

Toyama tells international students that a few things should be sure to study some English before they get here and to be ready to take a TOEFL test, which is a comprehensive assessment of one’s language skills. And she also enrolled in the ER courses offered at the college, which she said helped her a great deal and introduced her to a lot of friends. After she learned the nuts and bolts of the language, adjusting to America was pretty easy, but she also credits the staff of the International Student Services at her college. Most colleges have a similar office, and she highly recommends that foreign students take advantage of their services. “New students should talk to their advisers. I know them. They know me. They are like part of the family,” she said.

A problem that faces many international students is a reluctance to express their troubles, SUNY Rockland International Studies assistant Kim Sajak said. “They need to learn that it’s okay to come here with their problems,” Sajak said, noting that in many cultures it is taboo to even mention problems. Most colleges offer counseling services and can easily refer a student to a qualified professional if necessary, she said. Money is a universal concern. International students are not allowed to work off-campus due to visa restrictions, and so must either arrange to get a Social Security number and attain a student worker job on campus or bring an ample supply of money.

The biggest change for the student might be living with a new family. Usually, it presents an ideal opportunity for people to interact and learn about each other’s cultures. But occasionally, things do nor go as well as expected. “Students need to know they are not stuck in an uncomfortable living situation. We advise them to stay a semester and try it, as long as the situation isn’t too bad. If they don’t like it, we will find them a new place,” Sajak said.

“International students need to know that if they are not registered for full-time classes, they will have to return to their country,” said Marie Dell’Arciprete, Coordinator of International Student Services at SUNY Rockland. “Since September 11, the US government has tightened its enforcement of the visa regulations”.

A student cannot travel out of the country while in America without a signature from the appropriate official at their college, and in the case of some countries, the students must visit the US consulate to receive a special visa. Students far from home often long for the familiar tastes of their native countries. Most large urban and suburban areas of the United States offer a variety of shops and restaurants where they can find their favorite fare or sample a new cuisine. Rockland, for example, is home to a large international market. Another popular location in Fort Lee, NJ, which has a lot of Asian and Middle Eastern supermarkets.

Recreation and fun are important to all young people and most of the international students at SUNY Rockland are fond of taking trips to nearby New York City. The internet usually serves as a handy culture guide as students look for their favorite shows and shops to visit. “I play soccer every Friday and go to New York City,” 23‐year‐old SUNY Rockland student Keunwoo Kim, of Korea, said. Kim has been in America for four months and said having some friends and a cousin show him around really helped.

“As long as you get some friends you’ll be fine. We help each other,” agreed 22‐year‐old Shinsa Kawasaki of Japan. “It’s good to come here ‐ there are more opportunities and diversity. In Japan everyone looks the same, here there are so many different people. It’s much more fun,” he said.

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