International students describe their experience on campus

One hundred thirty eight new and continuing international students arrived on campus last week alongside thousands of their domestic peers for the start of fall semester. From the Bahamas to Yemen, Gambia to Lebanon, these students come from approximately 25 different countries of origin.

International students face many of the same challenges as domestic students, as well as some that domestic students often do not need to consider, including immigration, work authorization paperwork, language barriers and culture shock, said Liz Kruse, Assistant Director of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville International Programs.

“Making friends in general can be difficult,” Kruse said. “Humor is different in different cultures, how to make friends and what friendship means. Here, people are very friendly but it can be hard to go deeper.”

“It was kind of hard at the beginning,” said senior civil engineering major Sala Sanon. “I kind of shied away from Americans and first connected with international students. [As international students] we expect students to come toward us, but they are expecting us to go towards them.”

Sanon comes from Burkina Faso and attended University of Wisconsin-Whitewater before transferring to UW Platteville. She transferred here because of the engineering program and because she knew some students here. Sanon serves as secretary for the International Student Club.

Karen Kakou, a second semester industrial engineering major from the Ivory Coast, said that the first semester was also difficult for her.

“I almost felt discriminated against,” Kakou said.

After she became an RA in Southwest Hall, she began to get to know people and it became easier. Kakou lived in Madison before coming to Platteville.

“Even in terms of food options, there is so much difference,” Kakou said. “The quality of the bars, the ambience is different. The mentality is different … they hear you speak with an accent and they come to you and ask where you are from.”

Because of Platteville’s rural location, transportation poses a challenge to international students. Kruse said that while the Platteville shuttle has improved this year, the lack of public transportation to Dubuque and Madison makes students feel as though there is little opportunity to get out of Platteville.

Adjusting to a different structure of higher education is also challenging, Kruse said. Daily class attendance and participation are not always requirements for students in higher education systems around the world. The university’s size can be an adjustment for students.

“Platteville is small,” Sanon said. “At home, classes are given in huge amphitheaters with 700 to 1000 students. Here you know almost everyone in your class and you can easily talk to the professors.”

At universities in Ivory Coast, Kakou said that there are sometimes more students than seats in the lecture hall.

“People sit in the grass to hear the lectures,” Kakou said. “The difference is that it is free. Everyone can have an education.”

In Burkina Faso, education is not free like it is in the Ivory Coast, but Sanon said that the fees amount to less than twenty dollars.

94 of the 138 international students are seeking undergraduate degrees. The rest consist of English Language Program students and traditional exchange students.

International students choose to study in the United States for a wide variety of reasons and Kakou has two reasons. He first reason is her desire to improve her English skills. Her second reason is that diplomas from the United States are considered more prestigious that diplomas from other countries.

As for Sanon, it was also about English.

“I was hesitating between England and here, but chose here because England was more expensive,” Sanon said.

The presence of international students on campus is a large part of campus internationalization efforts, Kruse said.

“They give students, faculty and staff the opportunity to interact with people from other cultures and to learn to communicate with people who are different from them.”

In conclusion, Kakou said she would love to see domestic students become more interested in interacting with the international students on campus.

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