Across Many Ponds: The International and Exchange Student Experience at Dartmouth
Reflections on coming to Dartmouth from afar
Growing up in New Zealand, “college” was something that happened on TV. College was where the protagonist went after solving mysteries in a small Indiana town or before getting hired by Monsters Inc. Students cavorted in Hellenic mystery cults, pretended to enjoy playing sports and got into fights with rival a capella groups. Coming to Dartmouth was a dramatic change for those of us who are from a different part of the world.
Tuna Ozturk ’25 is a Thayer dual degree student, originally from Turkey. His initial reaction to being accepted into Dartmouth was: “Oh my God, it’s an Ivy League.” Dartmouth’s academic reputation certainly precedes it.
Nicolaj Westergaard ’22, here on an exchange term from the Technical University of Denmark, had a similar notion of what coming to Dartmouth would be like — and it has mostly proven true. “I expected to find a high level of intelligent people,” he said. “And so far, everyone has been a valedictorian or varsity captain.”
But Dartmouth isn’t only notorious for academic rigor. International and exchange students have also had to adjust to the College’s party scene. Joya Peasant ’22, a domestic exchange student from Spelman College, came to campus without being aware of the social scene.
“I did not know they had a big party life until I started reading [about it] on TikTok,” she said. “My parents actually had to break the news to me.” Joya’s reaction was: “Oh no.”
Isabella Zenkl ’23, who is originally from Mexico, said that Greek life was “all very strange and very weird.” Particularly problematic in her eyes is “the hierarchical system that the Greek system has. It’s a very immature way of living.”
Zenkl explained that “the more time you spend at Dartmouth, the more you realize that there’s a counter movement to Greek life.” But even so, finding your place outside of the mainstream can be difficult.
“You have to be slowly but surely finding your people,” Zenkl said.
Overall, the students I spoke to had a highly positive impression of the Dartmouth community. Ozturk, Peasant and Kinjo all emphasized how friendly and helpful people on campus were.
“I feel like [I’m] able to be more open and be myself,” said Mone Kinjo ’23, an exchange student from Keio University in Tokyo, about her experience living at Dartmouth.
However, some students have found campus’s remote location to be socially challenging. Giulio Frey ’23, an exchange student from Bocconi University in Milan, said that he finds that “campus is more isolated than I thought,”
Although I asked everyone I spoke to whether they felt they had experienced ignorance or stereotyping, there were a few complaints. Westergaard told me that some Dartmouth students had a hard time telling the difference between Denmark and the Netherlands, as “Danish” and “Dutch” were very similar in their eyes.
Kinjo had also experienced profiling based on her background. “People come up to me and say: ‘I love anime. Have you seen [this anime]?’” he said. “I don’t watch every anime. I know some of the famous ones. I sometimes feel sorry. I should be an expert but sometimes I can’t respond.”
Stereotypes are also sometimes directed closer to home. Peasant, who is originally from Alabama, said that lots of people ask her about southern stereotypes, such as inbreeding and racism.
“Yes, the South does have racism, just like the North has racism,” Peasant said, by way of explaining her usual response. “But they’re more open about racism [in the South], that’s the biggest difference.”
Though Zenkl is from Mexico, she explained that she typically passes as white and therefore doesn’t feel like she is stereotyped often. When her brother came to visit, however, she had a different experience.
“We were speaking in Spanish, and there were girls in front of us in a line to enter a sorority event,” she said. “The girls looked at us and they kind of started trying to copy the language, making fun of it.”
Still, for most of the international students I spoke to, Dartmouth has been a wonderful experience. But a problem arises when students are greeted with the reality that Dartmouth is a real place and not a movie.
Ozturk described how he had idealized Dartmouth to the point that, when he set foot on campus, he was surprised that the College was just a place where he was going to work for three years and then graduate. There was a profound lack of metaphorical fireworks.
But for me, it’s the disconcerting realness of Dartmouth that makes it truly amazing to attend. Dartmouth College is not the setting of a TV show — it’s a real community with all the kinks that come with life and institutions outside of fiction. And in being here, I feel like I’m a part of something bigger than myself.
This article was updated (Oct. 14, 1:05 p.m.).