College students are so lucky these days. There are more and more affordable opportunities to study abroad, and the most affordable of all: have an international experience right here in the U.S. by befriending an international student! That’s what I did. My experiences with international students in my undergrad years changed my life. They are what led me to pursuing a Master’s degree in International Education and to getting my current position, Department Coordinator of the International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO) at Brandeis. More significantly, I gained lifelong friendships and I was exposed to other cultures that I had never met before. This unique experience really fulfilled me. Before going to college, I had never really met that many people from other countries before. I grew up near San Diego, but my town was pretty small and I didn’t get out much. In college, however, there were students from all over the world.
The first international student I befriended was Yoshi, a Japanese girl. She is still one of my best friends today, and we had a lot of fun together. I loved learning about her culture, and she seemed to love interacting with an American. She was so grateful for the help I gave her with her English, and for me it was no trouble at all. I probably got more out of our time together than she did, so it was a win-win situation. After Yoshi went back to Japan, I reached out to some international students that were going to the English school on my campus. Many of them were only in the states for a semester or two, just to study English, before returning home. Again, they called me “their angel” for helping them with what I considered to the littlest things. The more time I spent with them the more I realized how many challenges they face studying in another country, and my admiration for them grew. Two of them actually invited me to go back to Korea with them when they returned home, so I got to do that for a month. Korea was foreign to me in so many ways, especially the language, and I learned a lot from my friends. Now I understood why they were so thankful for any small assistance I gave them in America.
After traveling to Korea, I really appreciated even more the difficulties international students face navigating in a foreign country. I definitely have the travel bug since going to Korea. After traveling there, I now always want to learn the language, and go to the country of any new person I meet! I was also so grateful for the chance my friends gave me.
I am so excited for Brandeis students, because they have the same opportunity. There are so many amazing students here to get to know. One way to do so is through ISSO’s Open Doors Host Program. This is a program that matches you with a first-year international student to welcome them as they adjust to Brandeis and U.S. life. There is more information at http://www.brandeis.edu/acserv/isso/host/opendoors/index.html.
My friendships with international students in college led to traveling across the world, meeting and learning from so many interesting people, and feeling like I made a difference in my friends’ lives. I love that I get to continue to do this for a living-I love my job! I hope to inspire others, so please come visit me any time!