Advice from Upperclass International Students
Sarah Gowing (Sarah is a junior at Westmont and an Economics/Business and Sociology double major. She is a Third Culture Kid (TCK), and has lived in France, Morocco, California, and Colorado. She hopes you have an excellent and transformational time at Westmont.)
Tips and Tricks for the non-American living in America:
1. Culture shock is a real thing. I still don't like eating cereal because the cereal aisles in American stores are too overwhelming and I can't decide.
2. Skype is amazing!!
3. You will feel misunderstood at one point or another (although probably at many points). This is normal and don't be afraid to ask questions.
4. You may not be able to visit your family during breaks like everyone else, but that's why you create a new family at Westmont! (Ex: spend Thanksgiving with your roommate's family)
5. Don't pretend to act American when you're not. Yes, it may seem nice to fit in for a while, but you're ignoring an important part of who you are.
6. Visit your professors during their office hours; I know it's cliché, but they really do care. They'll be more understanding if you reach out for help.
7. Get to know upperclassmen international/TCK/MK students. Mentoring can be really valuable.
8. You will get ignorant questions. Know that people aren't trying to offend you. They may be genuinely interested in getting to know you and your culture.
9. It's normal to take a while to get adjusted to American culture. If you don't have it all figured out within the first semester, don't stress.
10. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!! There are other students at Westmont who are having similar experiences.
Kailie Grinder (Kailie is a junior at Westmont and an Art major. She is a MK and spent the majority of her childhood living outside of Tokyo, Japan. The latter part of her high school years were spent in Hawaii. Because of her unusual background, she understands the challenges of thriving cross culturally and wants fellow international students to know that although those challenges never go away, you learn to utilize your different background and experiences to enrich the lives of others, as well as your own.)
Being an international student at a school in the US such as Westmont really has changed the way I see myself in terms of my racial and cultural identities. I am a ¾ Japanese - ¼ European TCK (third cultural kid) who was born and raised in Japan until the age of sixteen, spent the three remaining years of high school in Hawai’i and eventually made my way here to Santa Barbara for college. Because of my unusual background, I often had people ask me questions such as “Where are you from?” “How can you speak English?” and in extreme cases, “What are you?” The fact of the matter is that for most of us international students, the answers to these questions are often really complicated and long. Especially during Orientation week and the beginnings of each semester, I remember being so exhausted from having to repeat my answers so many times. I wanted people to know where I was from, my ethnic background, as well as my cultural identity but I needed to find a better time to share my side of the story. A joke a close friend of mine (who also shares a similar background as me) and I have is that now whenever people at Westmont ask us where we are from, we give the name of the US state that we are affiliated with; in my case, I say Hawai’i. We do this to eliminate the long explanation we always have to give when we say we’re from another country. I’m not encouraging people to cut their life stories short or lock their identities into a small box, but I think it is important to save those conversations for the people who actually want to get to know you and nurture long-lasting relationships with you. When I discovered the people who possessed these qualities, I knew that I found not only a group of friends that I would keep in touch with long after college, but also people who would genuinely care for and accept my identity.
Here are a couple more tips that helped me with being an international student here at Westmont:
Homesickness is normal for any international student. In fact, I guarantee that there are plenty of national students your first year that are going through the same thing. Don’t be afraid of meeting new people and getting involved with extra-curricular activities. It’s a great way to keep busy and become more involved with your school. With the support system of people you’ll eventually encounter, you’ll be able to better handle homesickness.
As an international student, I personally dealt with cultural and language barriers. With English being my second language, of course I had some reservations about being able to keep up in class and succeeding academically. I would advise you to go in and talk to your professors during their office hours. Westmont really takes pride in hiring a world-class faculty that genuinely cares about students in and outside of the classroom. Get to know them and share your concerns. They will do everything they can to fairly accommodate you.
Lastly, don’t let living in the states change who you are; embrace your individual culture and heritage! Part of the reason why Westmont recruits international students is because it wants to spread a global awareness that goes beyond the boundaries of the US. Each and every one of you has a unique story and culture to share. I made the mistake of trying to fit into the American culture and ended up compromising values that I grew up learning in my Japanese culture. Since this revelation, I continue to live out my life in the multi-cultural manner that defines who I am!
Andy Wood (Andy is a graduate of Westmont and an English major. He grew up in Ometepec, Mexico, as a missionary kid. He loved his childhood. While living in Santa Barbara has been very different than he was accustomed to, he has grown to appreciate and love the culture and place of Westmont. He’s so happy you’re here.)
Things that could help you that helped me—
• Be yourself! Don't be afraid to share stories about your life and your culture; most people love hearing about your experience.
• Learn to love what you can do here. Sometimes it's easy to see all the things you miss about your home or your culture, and you forget about the amazing opportunities that are right in front of you.
• Get involved. It's really easy to isolate yourself because you don't know what you really want to do, but if just get involved in something you can meet people that you normally wouldn't have and you won't have time to be homesick. If you don't like what you're involved in, you can quit.
• Seize the moments when you feel at home. There will be moments with people when you talk about home or see something that reminds you of home. Share them with you friends; it will make you feel better.
• Don't be afraid to ask questions. There are answers.
• If you need it, get help! There are faculty, staff and students who care, but they can't care if they don't know. So tell them!
Vi Pham (Vi is a sophomore at Westmont and a Psychology major. She grew up in Vietnam and spent her high school years at Wheaton Academy in Illinois. Vi would love to meet more new international students on Westmont campus and have yummy food from all around the world with them.)
One thing I wish I knew before coming here was how to prepare to deal with situations where I have to be very independent. I was aware of the fact that the US would be a different kind of environment, but I was not mentally prepared. As a result, I had a slightly big culture shock my first and second year being in America. With the help of those around me, though, I was able to cope and be more independent as I learned from my experiences.
Also, it was really helpful for me to have mentors who could help me when I'm homesick or when I need advice on something. Even now when I'm at Westmont, I have a mentor who is a professor on campus and I can talk to her about any thing!
One last thing to note is that I keep in touch with my family back home so that when I'm homesick, I call them and talk to them and it's really great to just be able to hear their voices. It's good to also know what's going on back home even when I'm not there.