The Challenges Faced by International Students

May 1st, 2008

Miscommunication and Identity large

Illustration by Alexandra Westrich

A New Way of Thinking

Foreign students at SAIC deal with language, educational and cultural differences, on top of school work. The experience, for them, can lead to a unique kind of personal growth.

“Coming to America and studying here, for me, is like starting a whole life all over again. It’s like I’ve become a baby again, except I’m not. I have to take baby steps to reach where I was before I came here,” said Jiyeon Lim, a sophomore at SAIC.

Tomie Seo, a Japanese student and a senior at the School, agrees: “The hardest thing in an art school for me isn’t the actual work we get, but understanding the assignment as a whole…It takes me so long to figure out how to do it, I don’t have enough time to finish it the way I want to.”

Some foreign students, especially those from Asia, have difficulty with SAIC’s conceptual approach to art. It is not that they lack creativity, but they were trained to concentrate on craft and skill, rather than being creative, and it can be hard for them to reverse that thinking.

“I was enrolled in one of Korea’s best junior-high art schools, and all I did was painting and drawing still-lifes. We would be graded on how well-drawn or painted our assignments were, rather than how creative they were. So the first time I came here and was told to be ‘creative,’ I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t comfortable working from my imagination,” confessed Sue Yoo, a sophomore student who says she now “gets the hang of” working from her imagination.

Vrinda Bhageria, a freshman from India, had a different view: “I was always interested in art, more specifically animation, ever since I was little. However, there really aren’t any art schools available in India. The high school that I went to was very focused on academic (achievement). In fact, we didn’t even have art as a subject…so it is very hard to get exposed to art in school.”

Another difficulty for some foreign students is the language barrier in social and learning situations. “I’m 25-years old, already have a BFA, but my English is worse than an 18-year-old freshman. How do you think I feel?” said Myeongjin Lee, a transfer student from Korea. “I want to make ‘Western’ friends and learn more about this country…But the fact that I don’t speak English stops me from interacting with English-speaking students.”

Other students claim that barriers exist because of cultural differences. According to Jay Song, a freshman: “I grew up in Dubai and went to a high school where English was a primary language.

In our school, there were lots of British students, so I had both Arab and British friends. Because of my past experience, I thought I had nothing to worry about concerning cultural differences, when I came to the United States. I’m not trying to stereotype, but since the British are so up-front with their feelings, I can’t help but feel a little confused,” said Jay Song, a freshman. “(Here) I don’t know if people are being nice to me because they like me, or because they feel obliged to be nice to people…sometimes I just want to forget everything and go back home.”

The number of international students is growing in the United States. According to the Korea Herald, the number of Korean students in the United States alone has reached approximately 100,000, as of 2006. If life in the U. S. is so hard for these students, why do they come here?

Alex Yao, a senior from China, says, “First of all, it is because the schools in the U.S. are known worldwide, especially the art schools. If I went to an art school in my country, people would say that I took the easy way out. However, if I said I’m studying art in the U.S. at a well-known school, they look at me differently.”

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