Becoming an International Student
The process to become an international student is arduous as well as complicated, and making the transition to U.S. schools is daunting.
Chikako Walker is the program manager for the International Students Program at Skyline College. According to her, there are just over 131 international students as of the fall 2021 census. Of these, approximately 26% are from Myanmar.
Aung Koko Khant, a student from Myanmar, recounted his reasons for becoming an international student.
“My mom suggested to me to go abroad to have a better education,” Khant said. “She just wanted me to have a better future. I also wished to learn and get an education from this country, especially in the States, since there is a really high possibility of getting a job, too.”
In the process to become an international student, Khant admitted that he had some troubles when he tried to apply. He said that the paperwork process was super-hard.
Making the Transition to U.S. Schools
Public schools in Myanmar start teaching English at the 5th grade. Khant had the advantage of a private school which taught English as early as kindergarten. Even so, Khant had to adjust to American culture.
“Pretty much everything [is different], even in our daily life,” Khant said. “In our country, people don’t use that much credit cards. Almost 90% of people use cash for everything. That’s a number one example. The second is that we don’t have that much tech in our country. Everything here is advanced. In our country, most of the people are poor, and they can’t afford everything like expensive stuff or living expenses.”
Khant added, “We don’t have a thing called Amazon.”
To make the transition, both culturally and scholastically, the International Students Program at Skyline College is front and center. In addition, individual professors at Skyline have to develop strategies that allow international students to succeed.
Program Manager Chikako Walker described her role at the International Students Program.
“My role is to observe and listen to the needs of our students,” Walker said. “I provide resources and services that meet their needs, and advocate for the students on and off campus. I also make sure that we are providing the opportunities for our students to get involved in our campus community so they can establish a sense of community and have a transformative experience at the college.”
Jarrod Feiner is an English professor at Skyline, and many international students have been part of his classroom.
“As I do with all my students, to better understand my international students, I empathize,” Feiner said. “Imagine being a young person, in a different country, where — beyond differences in culture — a different language may be spoken. Add to this, likely, it might be the first time this person has been away from their family. Often, there are tremendous expectations placed on them by their parents. My thought goes to how isolating this experience must be.”
Feiner mentioned a specific problem he encounters.
“Many of our international students were raised to treat their professors with tremendous respect,” he said. “While I appreciate the respect, it’s been my experience that this creates a distance that impedes my ability to best teach them the subject matter of the class.”
Professor Feiner said that it was important for him to break down the wall a bit, so the international student can look at him as an ally and advocate in his or her education.
Assets that International Students Bring to Campus
International students bring with them a richness of culture, contrasting perspectives, national history and social sincerity that all domestic students can draw from. If the political chaos was erased, Myanmar would be indicative of an idyllic place to visit.
“Once everything’s over, I suggest maybe going there,” Khant said. “It is really a beautiful country. The people are really warm and nice there.”
Professor Feiner offered his own perspective.
“It’s been my experience that our international students are among our campus’ most earnest, most hard-working students,” he said. “In a classroom, our international students offer a unique perspective to whatever the subject matter of the coursework is. For example, when looking to explain connotations and symbols in a work of literature, our international students often explain their thinking through the lens of their culture and experience.”
International students are not just here to collect the generosity of others. They provide unique cultural perspectives and scholastic acumen that make them assets to the student body and domestic community as a whole. Professor Feiner puts it simply.
“Our international students have concretized the concept that, when one gets down to what is really important, we are all the same.”