Hello! My name is Erika Shinoda. I was born and raised in Japan in a very rural area where no one could really speak English. I faced many obstacles in order to come to the U.S. for college, but I made my dream come true and am very honored to share my experiences as an international student.
In this article, I would like to explain the struggles that international students face at UCSB that were brought up through our meetings and research in International Student Advisory Board (ISAB). As you can imagine there can be multiple culture shocks, but what we experience goes far beyond that.
One of the major difficulties that international students face is communicating with domestic students and faculty, which can be challenging because of our accents. For international students, many of whom do not speak English as their first language, it is very difficult to pronounce some English sounds that do not exist in our own language.
For example, in Japanese, we do not have the “th” or “r” sound, so our mouth muscles are not trained to pronounce those sounds. However, international students often find people treating them differently because they have an accent, even though they understand English well enough to carry on conversations.
This discourages us and makes it hard to communicate. I would like to say that pronouncing another language perfectly takes a long time, just like it takes a lot of time and effort to become a pro-sports player. Most sports players who become professionals have practiced their sport from a very young age for a very long time, and have finally mastered their craft.
The same principle applies to learning languages. Since international students usually learn English starting in middle school or high school, it takes more time for us to master English. While international students try their best, it would be helpful for listeners to try to adapt to their accents and treat international students the same way that they treat native English speakers.
On the other hand, there are some international students who speak English with almost no accent. Those international students are always told, “How can you speak English so well?!” This can sometimes be taken as a compliment, but for some internal students, English is their primary language in their home country, making this “compliment” somewhat offensive.
I myself do not have a strong accent, and when I sought help with writing in English, I was told “Why do you need this basic help? You speak English perfectly.” In Japan and many other countries, we are not taught how to write academic papers, because our education systems are based on tests.
Therefore, many of us do not understand what a “topic sentence” or “thesis statement” is, and we get thrown into writing classes full of domestic students who have an idea of what an academic paper in English looks like.
However, because I did not have an accent, it took my instructor a long time to understand that just because I speak English, does not mean that I do not need help with writing. Thus, I would like everyone to understand that every international student has their own individual skill set, so you cannot generalize all international students into one monolith.
These generalizations can discourage us from speaking up in class or making domestic friends. Some cultures are educated in an environment where students do not normally speak up, or they can be afraid of talking to a domestic person because they might be judged.
Some other struggles we face are getting internships and jobs. International students face multiple restrictions on where to work and how much we can work, and most internships in the U.S. do not even allow international students to apply. Even if they do, they often treat international students as a backup.
During our research at ISAB, many international students expressed that they could not find jobs or internship because of these exact reasons. We are currently hoping to find companies that accept international students and educate them in finding their desired internships or jobs.
Another problem we are looking into is storage space over the summer. This could apply to out-of-state students too, because during the summer we are forced to move out of our dorms. But, we cannot take everything home alone on an airplane. The storage spaces off-campus are far away, expensive, and inconvenient. Thus, in the near future, we are looking to find a better storage system for international students.
As we can see, the ISAB identified multiple struggles that international students face during our research. In fact, there are many more issues that I could not list in this article. Some of these problems will take a very long to address, some may not be fixable, and most are very difficult to solve. But, some of these issues that we face can be easily improved with the help of domestic students and faculty.
Please, learn about the international students that you meet before generalizing them. We all have different stories and need your understanding and cooperation while we, of course, will try our best to understand American culture.