International families adjust to university life in United States

By Anne Gleason

When Catherine Ioseliani’s husband decided to come to the University to get his master’s in economics, Ioseliani and one of her sons packed up and moved from Tbilisi, Georgia, a country south of Russia, to Champaign-Urbana with him.

Ioseliani, who came to the United States last November, left behind her job as an economist – and her 18-month-old son, who was too young to come and is staying with grandparents. At first, the experience was very difficult, Ioseliani said.

“It was really hard because we had no neighbors and no friends,” she said. “For my son, it was really hard to get used to because he did not have any friends. He used to ask me, ‘Why does no one come in your apartment?'”

Last spring, 4,452 international students attended the University. Over 75 percent of them were graduate students, and many of them, like Ioseliani’s husband, Zaza, brought families with them.

Keun Hue Koh, a graduate student in education, moved to Champaign-Urbana from South Korea with her two children in July 2003. Her daughter, Myung Jee Jang, is a fifth-grader at King Elementary School and her son, Baek-Ho Jang, is an eighth-grader at Urbana Middle School.Koh said her husband also spent a year with their family in the United States, but had to return to South Korea this summer to work.

“We call ourselves a goose family,” Koh said, referring to the migration habits of geese.

Koh said the language barrier is the most difficult aspect of living in a foreign country. She and her children studied English before coming to the United States, but she said miscommunications still occur.

“Living in a different country is very challenging, but it’s also a very exciting experience,” Koh said. “We get a good understanding about how other

people live.”

Koh believes the experience is especially beneficial for her children. King Elementary in Urbana has an international program, and Myung Jee said she is able to meet students from around the world.

“In Korea, most of my friends are Korean, but here they are from different countries like Kenya, Iraq … Germany,” the

9-year-old said.

Myung Jee said she was excited when she found out her family would be living in the United States for two years, but her brother, Baek-Ho, was scared at first.

“In movies, you see a lot of gun stuff,” Baek-Ho said. “People seem bad.”

After living here for over a year, Baek-Ho said he feels more comfortable.

Young Jean Jang, a graduate student in finance, and his wife, Mi Kyung Park, also had some concerns before moving from Seoul, South Korea, to


Jang said they were concerned they would face racial discrimination in the United States. While he said they have not encountered any discrimination, he often notices cultural


He said the cultural differences can occasionally lead to confusion, but overall, any problems have been trivial.

Jang came to the University because of his job with Citibank – he was sponsored by the South Korean government to study in the United States. Jang, his wife and their three kids moved here during the summer and plan to leave this


His daughter, Amy, is a third-grader at Westview Elementary in Champaign, and his twin sons, Edward and Thomas, are in kindergarten at Judah Christian School.

Like Koh, Jang also said communication was one of the greatest difficulties associated with living in a foreign country.

“It is our first time visiting the U.S. … My daughter and son are fine, because they are young, but my wife, she has a big problem,” Jang said. “When I leave during the day, my wife needs to take care of the three children and when she goes to elementary school or kindergarten she has to be able to communicate with the teachers.”

Outside of school, Jang said he and his family try to learn as much as they can about the culture and try to get very involved with activities in the area. His children participate in several activities through the park

districts and the YMCA.

Many of the families said the variety of activities offered in the area through the cities, University or churches provided good opportunities to learn about the culture and the


Ioseliani also said she is happy with the number of activities available for children in


She said both she and her son are enjoying their time in the United States now that they are more accustomed to life here. She still misses her younger son and family in Georgia and the warmth of the people in her country.

“For the first six months, it was very hard,” Ioseliani said. “It happened very fast when (my husband) found out he was coming here. It was a hard decision to make to leave my second son, but it’s OK, because I know I will go back.”