The International Student Experience

By Hunter Farrell

Carolina Villa Nakata, senior psychology major, had plans to spend her senior year with the community she has grown to love, particularly by serving as a resident assistant. However, COVID-19 washed these plans away and left Nakata watching her senior year through a computer screen. Nakata lost her highly-anticipated resident assistant position and the scholarship money that comes with serving in the residence halls.

“It is hard to feel connected to the job and the student body you are trying to help by being remote.” Nakata said. She has to lead in her Student Senate position as co-director of multicultural services through her computer, which has been just as strenuous as online classes.

“[My professors] have been extremely accommodating; they remember me and allow me to participate in class,” Nakata said. “The classes as a whole have also made me feel welcome.”
Nakata was nervous for the fall semester and the idea that professors would be neglectful. Of course, she still longs to be back on campus to interact with her friends, professors and church that has become a part of who she is. As the semester progressed, however, some of her fears eased.

“The actual practice of our federal immigration policy is doing something different than what the government is claiming,” Melody Scott, dean of students and chief student development officer, said, expressing her frustration with the government and how they are handling international students during COVID-19. Scott has been working with Nakata by sending numerous letters advocating for her return to the United States, but the government continues to bar Nakata’s return.

Nakata is from Brazil, which is a country that is banned to travel to or from by the United States. The only option given to Nakata was to fly to a non-banned country, quarantine and then fly to the United States.

“That was a risk I decided not to take,” Nakata said. With COVID-19 still rising in several countries, it is hard to predict how that scenario might have played out. The outcome for present and future international students is an even larger unknown. However, the admissions office and multicultural center staff are still hopeful they will see these students return.

Linda Hoffman, director of admissions who also oversees international students, stated that around 75 international students apply each year. The admissions process is similar to that of traditional students, except that students need to prove their English language skills, which can be done by taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language or taking the ACT/SAT. International students do not have access to federal or state aid, so Malone offers a 50 percent scholarship to these students in order to support the growing community of international students.

“I anticipate we will see fewer international applicants for the upcoming year, but we are pushing hard to encourage them nonetheless,” Hoffman said. COVID-19 has affected the international student community since most of them have to learn through a computer screen. However, the admissions office works hard to ensure that international students have an equal opportunity to attend as that of traditional students.

“[Studying abroad] for us is extremely important and a huge blessing, that it is not something to be taken for granted,” Nakata said. “We experience loads of homesickness and culture shock from time to time—sometimes we want to call our friends/family from home just to speak in our mother tongue and reconnect with our roots. Sometimes we want to stay with other international students because we share similar feelings and experiences that bring us together.”

International students leave their families and homes behind them, then immerse themselves into an unfamiliar culture. Certain aspects of the United States can be confusing, as well as communicating with traditional students. Nakata wants traditional students to see the similarities between each other instead of the differences.

“It is essential to always check your perceptions before entering into dialogue with us; please do some research or do not make rude questions/assumptions about us,” Nakata said, emphasizing things traditional students can do when interacting with international students. “Also, do not put certain expectations on us out of generalizing our culture (such as “every Brazilian person is terrific at soccer”), because every person is unique and might not be the stereotypical thought you were thinking of.”

“There is nothing wrong with being curious; the wrong comes from imposing specific ideas onto us, coming towards us with hostility, or asking questions that negatively impact us and sound rude/ignorant,” Nakata said, encouraging traditional students to learn from their international counterparts. “Acknowledge your unfamiliarity, because after doing that and then asking me questions, I will be more than happy to share my story and my culture with you. Be open to our differences, engage with us, invite us and welcome us because it is challenging to create a new home.”

Get engaged with the international student community and let them know they have support. Contact Hoffman at 330-471-8139 or Scott at 330-471-8502 to get more information on international students and help support them during this stressful time.

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