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The Daily Illini

Campus resources, groups ease academic and social transition

International students have to make many interesting academic and social transitions when they first come to college.

I am an international student who was born in Tokyo, lived in Singapore through my middle and high school years and served in the Singapore military for two years before going to college. I am currently a senior in systems engineering and design with a minor in business.

Socially, international and local students have different experiences and cultural backgrounds, so we all have to learn to embrace each other’s values. During my time at the University, I made friends with people from India, Malaysia, Poland, Israel and more by visiting Round Tables and meeting people from my groups and classes.

My multicultural background did not make this too difficult, and I think that my friends and I learned to accept one another for who we are and really learn about each other’s values so that we could enjoy each other’s company.

For the last three years, I was fortunate enough to be a part of several clubs at the University, including CUBE consulting for a year and the Black Lives Matter movement for a semester, just to name a couple.

CUBE Consulting made me learn about professional working ethics such as how to work on a team, resolve conflict and voice my concerns. The Black Lives Matter movement taught me a little bit about what liberal values are in America and how to be globally aware about what is going on in the world.

I think that sometimes we focus too much on our own world. By joining clubs and looking for other people’s experiences, you can get a lot closer to people and understand where they come from. The best part of these experiences is that you are exposed to what goes on politically, economically and socially in different countries.

At the same time, when meeting a lot of people with different values, we may make mistakes through cultural misunderstanding. The most important thing, however, is to learn from these mistakes and move on.

In terms of academics, I feel that there are so many different systems in the world with so many different learning environments that it may be difficult to adjust to American learning. For me, I studied in a school which provided International Baccalaureate courses, which are much more theoretical than engineering at Illinois.

Engineering at Illinois has a very systematic curriculum with lots of problem-solving, rather than theory, which is why I think it is excellent for real world applications. As a student adjusting to the engineering curriculum, I went to my TA’s office hours, and used Center for Academic Resource in Engineering, CARE) resources at Grainger Library.

The CARE resources make tough problems less intimidating because they use peer mentoring. Office hours provided by professors and TAs are much more professional environments.

However, there you can learn what the professor expects in exams.

Another aspect of engineering which really was an academic culture shock was the amount of technology we are exposed to. Initially, the programs such as Autodesk Inventor, Matlab and Objective-C seemed quite intimidating to me, but once I put in the effort, I realized that it wasn’t as hard as it seemed.

I also utilized Engineering Council for any academic struggles I had in classes early on so that I could work with an adviser in order to get the best grade possible. If you put in the time and effort, there are great resources all throughout campus that really make you understand basic concepts in whatever field you go into.

As I enter my last year at the University, my best advice to any international student is to enthusiastically look for opportunities and don’t be intimidated by the small stuff. If you follow this advice, you will surely gain the tools and connections to excel.

Arjun is a senior in Engineering.

1 Comment

  • Lance

    Good insight because being an international student isn’t easy, given our complex culture and language. Assistance must come from numerous sources to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey. Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand so we all have a win-win situation.

    One such new award-winning worldwide book/ebook that reaches out to help anyone coming to the US is “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” It is used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors. It also identifies “foreigners” who became successful in the US and how they’ve contributed to our society, including students.

    A chapter on education explains how to be accepted to an American university and cope with a confusing new culture, friendship process and daunting classroom differences. Some stay after graduation. It has chapters that explain how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.

    It also has chapters that identify the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.

    Good luck to all wherever you study!