by Adrienne Hare
Imagine packing your bags at 18 and moving to a country thousands of miles away, where you know no one, where no one speaks your language, where the customs and traditions are different than yours. Now imagine enrolling in a full course load at a university in this distant country, reading textbooks on physics, psychology, and business all in a foreign language. Imagine taking notes during lectures not given in your native tongue.
For approximately 240 international students enrolled at Western Oregon University, that’s exactly what they’ve done. WOU’s international students represent 17 different countries with a large majority of students coming from China and Saudi Arabia majoring in everything from computer science, to art, to business. Western Edge wants to introduce you to two of these incredible students to hear about their experience at WOU.
Zihan Gao, Dalian, China
Zihan, or Susan, her English nickname, is a business major/Spanish minor who was looking to study in the states and chose WOU because of the similar climate to her hometown. Prior to arriving at Western, Zihan had taken some English classes but it was her professors here who helped her succeed.
“The language difference made me have to study harder in college especially in my first year here. I think I took twice as long to finish the classes’ reading and paper assignments compared to American students. The professors here are very helpful, especially my English professors. They helped me with my academic writing and speaking, and supported me when I needed encouragement and direction.” Zihan didn’t let the language barrier stop her from jumping right in when she got to WOU working as a resident assistant, serving as president of the International Club, and being a member of the Business and Circle K clubs. “I met new American and international friends here and they helped me adapt to American culture.”
Adapting to life in the states took a little adjusting. “I did not have a car when I came to the states and I lived on campus,” she said. ‘I feel lucky that I met my friends and Mr. and Mrs. Halligan from International Student, Inc., and they gave me rides until I got familiar here and bought my own car.” It also meant arranging video chats with family in China at odd hours. Compared to China, things like groceries are more expensive here in the U.S. but name-brand clothing such as Nike, and Coach are all significantly cheaper here. For good Chinese and Korean food, Zihan and her friends drive up to Beaverton. One of the main differences Zihan sees between here and China is the education system.
“The education method and system are different. American education emphasizes both working experience and academic performance so that gives young people more opportunities to work in the real world to find out what they are really passionate about. Chinese education emphasizes more academic performance than working experience. Because of the large population in China, it makes it more competitive to go to college and students have to study hard to get higher score for the college entrance exam.”
She is hoping to translate her time here into an opportunity to work both in the states and China “My passions are international sales and communicating with different people from diverse backgrounds. I am interested in working in international retail, product operations management, and international retail consulting. China’s international business is developing dramatically, I want to work internationally so that I could work and live both in China and America.”
“I am enjoying all the people and things I am meeting and experiencing at WOU because they not only show me the American culture, but also make me a great student leader and efficient worker. WOU has great professors and perfect class size for international students. The class sizes are small and we are able to visit with professors during office hours when we need extra help or direction in our class.”
She would like to encourage American students at WOU to volunteer to mentor international students with their English, show them their culture and to be able to make international students’ experience at WOU even better.
Hassan Ali Alhassan, Saudi Arabia
Hassan is a double major in economics and business who came from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province. Alhassan learned first-hand about WOU from his older brother, Hussain, who is a 2010 graduate. “I can say he is the one supported me to be in the U.S. He paid my tuition until I got a scholarship. He hosted me, my wife and my son. I am thankful to him for his support.” Being away from family and friends is difficult, but for Hassan having his wife and child here, as well as two brothers and sister, make it a bit easier.
Hassan came to the U.S. having taken rigorous English courses. “I studied at Jubail Industrial College which is supervised by the Royal Commission and I got my diploma in business,” he said. The college teaches intensive English before taking major classes to prepare students to work in the big companies in Saudi Arabia where it’s necessary to speak English. “As you know there are a lot of barriers that can be faced for international students even for those who speak English who have difficulty in understanding American accent.” Hassan is planning to stay in the states after graduation to work on his master’s degree. He is involved in the international club as the club photographer for two years and is now the vice president and is also a member of the Business and Economics Club. When he’s not studying or spending time with family he enjoys photography and shopping with friends.
“$1 is equal to $3.76 in Saudi Arabia which is almost four times to our currency. Some things here in the U.S. are cheaper and some are more expensive but the quality of items here is much better.” Like many international students he only goes home for summer break. As a Muslim, they do not celebrate Christmas. “At Christmas break I don’t go home because the ticket price is so expensive and the break isn’t long enough. So, during Christmas and spring break I enjoy them either at home with my family and friends or visit other places in the U.S. or around Oregon.” There are many cultural differences that Hassan has noticed but the one that stands out to him is that “in school here boys and girls attend school together, but back home there is school for boys and school for girls for all the levels.”
Hassan enjoys WOU because of the students, supportive International office, helpful advisors, and professors that are willing to help. “It is easy to meet with your professors and they know their students very well because of the small class size. The staff are friendly especially—those working in the International Office. Students here are awesome. Because of them probably I will do my master’s in same school.” He would love to see the English school reopened to allow the international students to come and study. He also thinks adding a game room or two around campus would be good for students to mingle and socialize during their free time since the town doesn’t offer many social opportunities.”
These are just two of 240 incredible students from around the globe studying at WOU. For those who would like to get involved with the international office helping students, there are several ways that you can be of assistance. According to staff member Ambre Plahn, opening your home for a short time is one of them. “We are always looking for people that are able to help with temporary housing for students when they first arrive to campus each term including summer. We usually need people anywhere between a few days to two weeks until the students are able to either move into the dorm or get into an apartment.”