INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS ADJUST TO LIFE ABROAD
Where were you at 17?
Perhaps your answer involves being in high school, arguing with your parents over chores or playing video games in your room at home. But if you’re Farrell Fileas or Ploy Muenprasitivej, your answer would involve living alone and attending a college thousands of miles away from home in a largely unfamiliar country.
Fileas and Muenprasitivej are international students at SCC, and they, like many of their peers, made the decision to leave their high schools in Indonesia and Thailand, respectively, to attend SCC. The college’s high school completion is a major draw for students from abroad because they get to earn credits for college while also completing high school requirements, but how does it feel for teenagers to have to adapt to not only living alone, but living alone in a foreign country?
“It was hard at first,” Muenprasitivej said. “I (felt) regret that I came here at first — I missed my friends so much, I was like, trying to call them almost every day.”
(She didn’t have to call her mom, though. Her mom called every day.)
“I saw their lives on Instagram, Facebook and everything, and I was like, I wanna be with them,” she said.
For Muenprasitivej, choosing to attend SCC meant living alone for the first time. And the fact that she was in a different country only added to the stress.
“Sometimes I just didn’t understand the professor when I first came here because they talked too fast,” she said. “Everything was fast and I just felt overwhelmed at first.”
Fellow international student Fileas also had his own struggles when he first made the move.
“Living alone for the first time in a completely new place, a different continent in my case … when you first get through, you’re super excited (but) there’s this phase where you’re down,” Fileas said. “Like everything is weird and you’re like what’s going on here, but you get adjusted to it. I think it’s natural to go there for international students.”
Adjusting to life in the U.S. meant adjusting to a multitude of differences, from the major leap in living costs to the American propensity for expressing oneself to the huge portion sizes.
“The portion size in Thailand — it’s like half (the) size of here,” Muenprasitivej said. “When I first came here, I had to share with my friends, but after I’ve been here a year or so, I can eat the whole thing.”
But the differences go beyond massive cheeseburgers and ginormous teriyaki chicken combos.
“In the United States, you’re able to say anything you want,” Muenprasitivej said. “But then in Thailand, when you express yourself, like when you show yourself too much, people will think that you’re crazy.”
This change in social expectations can sometimes be an issue when it comes to communicating with people like host parents, according to Kanpong Thaweesuk, director for Thailand-based international education agency KorPunGun. Thaweesuk attended SCC himself from 2009 to 2013, so he is able to relate to the issues faced by many students when they first arrive.
“In our culture, it’s not really a norm to tell the adults that, “Oh, this does not make sense,” or “This makes me feel uncomfortable,” he said. “So it’s big for (students) to learn and understand and overcome.
“Support here is very important because … there are a lot of internal feelings that they are going through when they first arrive to the States.”
For Fileas, another difference was stricter rules on academic dishonesty. While cheating was taken seriously in his home country of Indonesia, it was “not as intense as it is here,” he said.
Earlier in his time at SCC, Fileas was caught for plagiarism after misunderstanding the rules for group work and working with other students on an assignment.
“That was on the day my parents left, so I was like, ‘Oh my god, what am I going to tell them?’” he said. “They say collaboration is encouraged here, but I think I overestimated the extent there.”
He ended up getting a stern warning and a zero on his assignment, as well as a learning experience for the future.
“I think as we progress, it gets more obvious, like, what we’re supposed to do and what we’re not supposed to do,” he said.
Fileas and Muenprasitivej, like many other international students, had to work through adjusting to life abroad, but now, as second-year students, they’re used to it. They settled into their new homes, made new friends and forged new connections to the school and the city. They grew up.
Both Fileas and Muenprasitivej can now be found in the International Education office working as international peer mentors, using their experiences to help other students shape their own paths through SCC and beyond.
By Areeya Tipyasothi,