2/26/2021 Kim O'Brien

In Their Own Words: International Students Share Perspectives

How is Franklin and Marshall College helping international students adjust to college in America – especially during a global pandemic? Seven students share their honest experiences.

Navigating college life can be challenging enough. But for international students, the pandemic presents a unique set of considerations.

“Right now, I'm in China and we’re 13 hours ahead. One of the biggest challenges is the time difference,” said junior Xiaoyi Zhang.

Zhang was joined by six peers from all corners of the globe in a candid panel focused on the international student experience. Responses ranged from heartfelt to humorous. 

The conversation was part of a series called “In Their Own Words,” an initiative designed to bring awareness of unique student experiences to faculty and professional staff. 

Luckily, the College’s hybrid learning model ensures that students like Zhang get some sleep. 

“I had one lab at 2 a.m. My professor said it was OK for me to just watch the recording. I really appreciate my professors being flexible,” she said.

Event moderators included Sue Mennicke, associate dean for international programs, and Carlota Batres, assistant professor of psychology.

Read a recap of abridged student responses below. 

  • "Navigating American college life together has been very fun so far," said junior Kamakshi Shah, of Nepal. "Navigating American college life together has been very fun so far," said junior Kamakshi Shah, of Nepal.

F&M: When you were accepted at F&M, what did you need to know? 

Kamakshi Shah '22 (Nepal): Joseph International Center (JIC) was super helpful. I was having some technical visa issues. With my whole application process, the JIC was very helpful and responsive and flexible. 

I was connected to other Nepali students on campus, so they were able to tell me everything that was specific to America.

  • "My professors were really understanding of my situation. They offered extensions and they were flexible in terms of labs," said sophomore Raluca Rilla, of Romania. "My professors were really understanding of my situation. They offered extensions and they were flexible in terms of labs," said sophomore Raluca Rilla, of Romania.

F&M: What did you expect from your first meeting with your academic adviser? 

Raluca Rilla '23 (Romania): I assumed that I was going to have to show that I've already decided in what direction I want to take my studies, but it wasn't at all like that. The meeting was really nice for me, especially since my adviser is also an international professor. I knew that I could always go to him for advice on philosophy courses and my major as well. He's helped me with that journey a lot.

Jaka Pandza '22 (England & Slovenia): I actually came here on a recruit visit for the basketball team. I was so interested in academics that my coach organized a conversation with a member of the physics department. He answered every single question I could've possibly had, and l had a lot of questions.

I can confidently say this one of the reasons I chose to go to F&M. The program was so clear and so laid out to the point where we even made a yearly timetable of which classes I'd take. 

  • "I actually came here on a recruit visit for the basketball team. I was so interested in academics that my coach organized a conversation with a member of the physics department. He answered every single question I could've possibly had," said junior Jaka Pandza '22, of England and Slovenia. "I actually came here on a recruit visit for the basketball team. I was so interested in academics that my coach organized a conversation with a member of the physics department. He answered every single question I could've possibly had," said junior Jaka Pandza '22, of England and Slovenia.

F&M: Were there terms in use at F&M that you did not understand when you first got here? 

Hidy Li '23 (China): “Dips” was one. I didn't find out until a couple weeks into the semester that it means Diplomats! 

Pandza: “Tailgating”– in England, it’s completely different. Coming from the United Kingdom, it may be a little bit easier to understand terms. So what I want to mention are more behaviors. I was a little surprised by the informality and discussion-based classes that F&M is definitely known by. Being from England, we kind of expect it to be lectures and rarely any questions. 

  • "It could feel very lonely at the beginning," said  sophomore Hidy Li, of China. "It could feel very lonely at the beginning," said sophomore Hidy Li, of China.

F&M: Being an international student can take an emotional and mental toll. Did you struggle emotionally or mentally? What helped?

Nadezhda Ivanova '23 (Bulgaria): It was hard to adjust to American culture. The way that Americans form friendships is very different than the way that international students form friendships.

The thing that really helped me feel like I belonged was when I went to office hours to my connections course professor in my first semester. Professors really helped me adjust. I think a lot of internationals value academics the most out of their college experience. 

Li: I found it really helpful to connect with my friends and family at home. Then, I found it very helpful to connect with my house adviser, who was amazing and organized all sorts of activities for us. Just participating in the club activities, going to meetings, Writers House – I found those so helpful, because it could feel very lonely at the beginning. 

  • "I think a lot of internationals value academics the most out of their college experience," said sophomore Nadezhda Ivanova, of Bulgaria. "I think a lot of internationals value academics the most out of their college experience," said sophomore Nadezhda Ivanova, of Bulgaria.

F&M: What is it like to be an international student studying remotely this year? 

Xiaoyi Zhang '22 (China): One of the biggest challenges is the time difference. In the fall, I had one lab at 2 a.m. My professor said it was OK for me to just watch the recording. I really appreciate my professors being flexible. Because of the time difference, I try to email my professors at midnight (in China) so that I can get an immediate response if I have any questions related to my assignments.

Another challenge that I wanted to mention is loneliness. I’m at home and all my friends from China are in different cities right now. They're in college as well. So being at home by myself – I'm not really used to that. I also don't really like texting. I prefer having in-person conversations, so that's tough. I really hope I can go back to the U.S. and see my friends soon in the future.

Pandza: I'm from the United Kingdom, which is a five-hour time zone difference. Toward the very end of last semester, I was traveling all weekend. That Monday, the final essay was due. I was so determined to get it done so that I wouldn't have to travel a long way and finish an essay the next morning. Just knowing that I have more time as a backup is always very helpful. Having professors with that understanding, with flexible timetables, made me feel appreciated.

Ivanova: One other aspect of studying remotely is that we don't speak English all the time like we would in the U.S. I know that my English used to be better because I'm not practicing it like I would if I were in the U.S. It's really frustrating when you have all these ideas in class and you want to present and you can’t immediately find the right words. That just adds to the whole mixture of emotions.

Rilla: I studied remotely the first part of this year. That experience was even trickier because I moved with my family to Germany from Romania. We drove by car for three days, right when midterms started during module one. It was a really difficult experience for me to keep up with my classes and also be on the road. Professors were really understanding of my situation. They offered extensions and they were flexible in terms of labs.

In terms of loneliness and feeling disconnected from campus, it was even more challenging for me because I was in a new country. Being on a screen all day gets a little exhausting. Even though I got a sense of Zoom fatigue, it was nice to have things scheduled on my calendar and be in meetings with people.

I'm really happy to have a room of my own now at F&M and to have a quiet space where I can study.

  • “Right now, I'm in China and we’re 13 hours ahead. One of the biggest challenges is the time difference,” said junior Xiaoyi Zhang, of China. “Right now, I'm in China and we’re 13 hours ahead. One of the biggest challenges is the time difference,” said junior Xiaoyi Zhang, of China.

F&M: Could you give some advice to faculty and staff about connecting with international students?

Sioni Mollel '22 (Tanzania): Get to know them – not just as students – but ask them who they are, where they’re from, simple questions like that. 

Everyone wants to be acknowledged. Everyone appreciates when you acknowledge their presence. It's very simple. Just ask them how they are doing. 

When we hold events – like international coffee hour, for example – I encourage faculty members to stop by and just meet international students. It’s not formal. I don't have to sign up.  I just have to show up.

Shah: Having a small conversation about where we're from really helps us feel connected to the school. When [Hartman] found out where I was from, the first thing [she] asked me was to show me pictures of my city. Just a small question or a comment helps you feel very connected to F&M. 

  • "Everyone wants to be acknowledged," said junior Sioni Mollel, of Tanzania. "Everyone wants to be acknowledged," said junior Sioni Mollel, of Tanzania.
"Get to know them – not just as students – but ask them who they are, where they’re from."
"Everyone wants to be acknowledged," said junior Sioni Mollel, of Tanzania.
Sioni Mollel '22

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