Cultural Counterpoints

by Christopher Cartwright | 1/10/18 2:20am

The first year for college students can bring massive changes to their lives, from making new friends to keeping up with the academic pressures.

The adjustment to college can be even more challenging if one is moving to a new country for the first time, which is the case for international students. Three first-years reflected on how the distance of their hometowns near and far, to campus impacted their fall experiences.

Themis Haris ’21, a student from Greece, is studying engineering. Aadil Islam ’21, a student from Burlington, Massachusetts, is considering majoring in math and possibly computer science. Timothy Yang ’21, a student from Houston, Texas who, is interested in majoring in psychology, grew up in Taiwan but at the end of eigth grade moved to attend high school in Houston.

Haris credits his smooth transition at the beginning of the term to College-sponsored programs such as International Orientation Week. Harris added that First-Year Trips helped him and other international students get to know each other, since most of them tend to attend the same sections.

Islam had a similarly smooth transition to Dartmouth as well.

“It’s been pretty easy because my parents are so close by,” he said.

Initially, he was worried that he might have to attend a college on the West Coast but was relieved when he was accepted to Dartmouth.

Yang has had experiences as both an international and domestic student, but his Dartmouth transition was easier in comparison to his transition to high school.

“I already had a huge transition coming from a Taiwan middle school to an American high school,” he said.

For all students transitioning to college, though, there can be difficulties. Islam said that his experience has been easier because of the short distance to his hometown, but navigating social life at the College has proved more challenging.

“Being more independent ­­— that’s been a little harder,” he said.

Haris, meanwhile, said that winter term has been more difficult for him than fall had been because of the longer break in between the two terms.

“I went back home and reminded myself of how home was, and then I come back here and you kind of realize that this is your everyday life from now on,” he said.

However, he added that many international students are able to keep going by viewing it as an adventure.

“Initially, you see it as an adventure, you know, meeting new people, going abroad, studying hard, achieving whatever goals you have,” he said.

Yang’s transition from Taiwan to the U.S. brought him similar feelings. When he first moved, he was excited by the new culture and way of life, but at the same time had fears related to being in a foreign country and not accustoming to the language or culture.

There are some perceived divisions between international students and domestic students, but they do not seem to get in the way of students from the two groups intermingling.

“What I have observed is that most internationals hang out with other international students, which is good, because you have people with common backgrounds,” Haris said.

In general, however, he remarked that he had not had any trouble making friends at Dartmouth, both with other international and non-international students.

Similarly, students from the Northeast tend to congregate with each other to a certain extent.

“I’m happy that my friends are somewhat nearby,” Islam said.

Another challenge is navigating different school systems. Yang said that in Taiwan, students take entrance exams starting from middle school. Depending on how well one scores, students are able to major in certain areas of study. Similarly, in Greece, one takes tests to be placed into certain colleges, Haris said.

“My dad, he tells me he still has nightmares of being in the day of examinations and not remembering stuff,”said Haris, emphasizing how intense the exams can be.

Despite having completely different backgrounds, all three students had somewhat similar experiences adjusting to Dartmouth. While the transition to college brings exciting experiences, it also brings new doubts and fears. Whether one lives two hours away or 12 hours away, once at the College, they can face similar challenges. Someone from Greece may be just as excited and nervous as someone from Texas or Massachusetts; no matter how alone one feels, there are other students out there facing the same worries.

Haris said he still faces doubts.

“At the back of your mind, you have that thought of ‘you know, am I going to go back or am I going to just keep traveling or am I going to, you know, spend my life abroad and not have regular contact with my homeland?’” Haris said. “This is kind of something that concerns me a bit, and I keep thinking about it. It’s still an adventure to me, so we’ll see.”

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