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International Students Find Their Voice in Leadership and Advocation

Carlos Sosa | Photo by Christian Peters | The Wright State Guardian

Wright State welcomed 550 new international students for the fall 2021 semester from 50 different countries, compared to 39 countries in fall of 2020. 

In addition to the struggles international students face before landing on U.S. soil, they also have to fight to make their voices heard amidst fears of being left out. 

According to several international students, the best place to find their voice is in student organizations and getting involved on campus. 

The combination of university resources, activities from the University’s Center for International Education (UCIE) and on or off-campus student organizations help international students advocate for themselves and make their adaptation to the new environment smoother.

Challenges and advocating

The first months of living in another country are the most difficult for international students. Adjusting to living standards in an unknown country, culture shock and navigating a language barrier contribute to the initial challenges. 

During this time, many international students are overwhelmed by adjusting to changes while worrying about missing important information about classes, housing or involvement opportunities.

“In the first two weeks, I was a little bit homesick, and it took some time to adjust. But then I started interacting with the right people, and it gave me the energy to focus on my studies,” K M Tawsik Jawad said, an international student from Bangladesh who is getting his Ph.D. in computer science.

Mashuj Alshammari, a junior international student from Saudi Arabia, majoring in mechanical engineering, started his journey at Wright State with the Learning English for Academic and Professional Purposes (LEAP) program to improve his English skills.

“Although I am the kind of man who likes to talk, I had a hard time interacting with people during the first two months. I didn’t talk to anyone because I was afraid to make a mistake,” Alshammari said.

Many international students face the same language barrier struggle. 

“International students helped me to start communicating with other people because I assume they have the same problem as me. They are also from different countries and societies,” Alshammari said.

Fear of being left out 

After moving to an unknown country, international students are often afraid of being left out. First-year graduate computer science student Nikhil Surabhi is from India. He highlighted that it is easy to notice whether the new country is welcoming or if it just adds to the challenges of missing their country, family and friends. 

“The more students are involved, the less pressure they have inside their head and the more focused they will be in the prime objective, which is studying. One thing they want is someone who they can talk to and get to know people around,” Surabhi said.

Advocating through involvement  

“You will miss a lot of opportunities if you wait for someone to go together with you to events or interesting places on campus. A lot of the events I went to were by myself. I did not have a friend to come with,” Carlos Sosa said, an international student from Guatemala.

Sosa mentioned he was uninvolved in campus life during his undergraduate studies, which led him to have difficulty landing a job after graduation. Once he started his master’s program in marketing analytics and insights in the fall 2021 semester, he decided to choose a different approach. 

During the first few months of his master’s, Sosa got an on-campus job and simultaneously started to attend various events to meet new people and learn about all the opportunities on campus.

“You will finally find people who accept you, and if they won’t, you go to another group of people. It is better to risk it than never do it,” Sosa said.

Joining a student organization

It is much easier for students to feel included when they are around people who share the same interests and passions—all student organizations at Wright State welcome international students.

“I knew that I didn’t want to be around international students all the time,” Sosa said. “I became quickly involved in International Friendships Inc. in Dayton, Miracle Makers and the Entrepreneurship Club on campus.”

“When there is less pressure in studies or a gap between assignments, then I try to attend such meetings. This is a good way of meeting and interacting with other people who have the same interests,” Jawad said.

Leading an organization can help too.

After the Saudi Student Organization was not active for six months, Alshammari decided to take its presidency and run the organization. 

“When I was planning to come to Wright State, I talked to the former president of the Saudi Student Organization a month before I got here. He told me about local restaurants, the cost of living and helped me find housing. He was taking care of everything, ” Alshammari said.

Inspired by his experience with the organization, Alshammari plans to continue supporting Saudi students and sharing the Saudi culture with domestic and international students alike. 

“We are taking care of other students and we are doing what families usually do,” Alshammari said.

International students are not afraid to make their preferences heard. 

For instance, some students highlighted that organized holiday traveling tours could help them to learn more about the U.S. 

Others said that sports play a huge part in their life, and having more physical activity would motivate them to come out of their rooms.

The UCIE office supports upcoming students before they settle in the U.S and those who continue their studies at Wright State. 

Olha Zuban

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