I have been an international student my whole life. It all started when my family moved to Oregon from Korea when I was 2-years-old. My dad was studying at a university there, being an international student himself, and after a couple of years we moved to Elkhart/Goshen Indiana, where I spent most of my childhood. When I was 8-years-old we moved back to Korea and stayed for several years, and then came back to Goshen when I started high school. Now my family is back in Korea and here I am at Goshen College, finishing up my second year.
Reflecting on those transitions, I have spent about an equal number of years in both Korea and the U.S. During those times, and even now as an international student, I am seen as an outsider, an immigrant, a foreigner, a person of color. Someone different from the others. But let me tell you, those labels vaguely describe the surface of who I am and what it is like to be an international student.
Being an international student has allowed me to see more.
More beyond my homeland, my tradition, my culture, and my immediate community. I know it sounds cliche, but my world view has expanded immensely after the many transitions between Korea – U.S. and various cities.
Being an international student enables me to represent my country in foreign settings.
Over the years I have encountered people who didn’t know that Korea even existed (I was quite devastated to hear this at a young age). I had to clarify numerous times that I’m not Chinese, not Japanese, I am Korean. Through these experiences, my nationality and ethnicity became significant parts of my identity, and I became more conscious of how I represent myself and begin to think about where I belong.
Being an international student can cause some trouble – or extra work.
Starting with the college application process, finding a job, applying for scholarships and other financial aid that are not limited to U.S. citizens, carrying a passport for identification, getting a student visa, filling out tax forms, making a bank account, getting health insurance, medical problems, and etc. The list goes on. Thank God Skip is here to help us.
Being an international student, sometimes I am unexpectedly “welcomed to America” or put on the spot to share about the differences between my country and the US or some of my “experiences.” Don’t ask these questions unless you have a true desire to learn and will listen to my whole story. Your welcoming gesture may not feel welcoming and my responses might not be something you were expecting to hear.
Being an international student merits performance opportunities at the International Student Coffee House.
The Coffee House is one of my favorite events here at Goshen College, being a great opportunity to represent my culture, celebrate other cultures, perform with friends, see my friends perform, learn together, and eat the best international meal together.
Being an international student, I learn how to deal with homesickness.
For many of us international students, home is not a place we can go over every break. Finding a place to stay over break can be challenging when the dorms are closed or living situations are not ideal. But we learn to find and create our own home away from home.
Being an international student, I have a lot to share. Anecdotes about awkward encounters, fitting in, and culture shocks (they come in handy for ICC, Academic Voice, and when you are asked to share what it’s like to be an international student). For an example, root beer floats. My mind was blown when I first had one and then I saw people eating ice cream with fresh warm pie. Adding onto that, I love sharing Korean music, both traditional and contemporary. Recently I was fortunate enough to share my choral arrangement of a Korean folk song at a choir concert with the Women’s World Music Choir. This was a very meaningful and uplifting experience for me and I hope to do more of it in the future. I also enjoy cooking Korean food for my friends, because Korean food is good, and along with music, they are good things to share and wonderful ways to connect with others.
Being an international student reminds me that the world is a diverse place.
Korea is racially homogenous. Although there are immigrants and refugees in Korea, Korea is not considered a racially diverse country. The transition back to the Goshen area and meeting other international students here at Goshen College reminded me that the world is a diverse place and I bring diversity and parts of my culture wherever I go.
Being an international student is not easy.
Some people underestimate me. Some people avoid me. Some people hastily generalize me and my people, because of the many differences we face in social settings and the lack of exposure and cultural awareness. But I believe there is a common ground for all and there are people in this community who are willing to expand that common ground together.
But mostly, I am grateful to be an international student.
Overcoming hardships and growing independence is a true learning experience. Growing up in different environments and not being limited to one culture is a blessing. I can not imagine what my life would have been like if I stayed in Korea for my whole life. I am thankful for all the worlds I have walked into and connections I made through my international experiences.