The Brookdale chapter of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) national honor society kicked off its year-long “Break the Bias” campaign with an international student forum held Oct. 27 in the Main Academic Complex.
The forum, co-hosted by the International Education Center, featured a panel of students from Guatemala, Brazil, India, Mexico, Argentina, Russia and America, who took turns answering questions from a capacity crowd of Brookdale students, staff and faculty.
The panelists – joined by chemistry professor and PTK co-advisor Shahin Pirzad and International Education Center Coordinator Lucyna Wadych-Ketley – shed light on the challenges and struggles faced by international students who travel to America to pursue their educational goals.
From communication breakdowns and loneliness to a new set of cultural and educational standards, international students face a wide range of difficult adjustments both in and out of the classroom.
Some students, like Anton Mochan of Russia, must start their college education over from the beginning in America, despite earning a master’s or even a doctoral degree in their home country.
Others must spend valuable class time learning their way around the college email system, filling out reams of paperwork, or trying to understand uniquely American phrases like “MLA formatting.” For many, the biggest challenge is simply not knowing where to go with their questions.
“It’s not easy,” said Pirzad, who first left Iran to study abroad when he was 17. “I was in a different country, in a different house, by myself. I was petrified. I didn’t know what to do. You feel so lonely, especially if you have nobody to support you.”
Those comments were echoed by many of the panelists, including Brazil native Luiza Pessoa.
“When I first came here I came with my mom. But she just went back to Brazil, and it’s a big change not having someone there for you,” Pessoa said. “But now I am kind of relying more on my fellow international students. They have become a family for me. We can go out together. They are going through the same stuff, and I know they are always there for me.”
When asked what works, or what can can be done to improve the international student experience at Brookdale, nearly all of the panelists said the college’s International Education Center (IEC) and International Students Association (ISA) are valuable sources of guidance and support.
Shamim Tadrisi said the IEC helped him to complete his first semester at Brookdale while still at home in Argentina, successfully guiding him through an online course while he was waiting for his travel visa to be approved. Others said the IEC and ISA connected them with faculty, staff and fellow students who understood, both literally and figuratively, where they were coming from.
“You go into the office and it’s your people. You can feel it,” Mochan said.
The panelists also recommended that faculty and students try to empathize more with international students in class and on campus. While they may talk, dress or see the world in a different way, they all share the same aspirations as members of the Brookdale community.
“In many places outside of the U.S. you have to fight for your opportunities. The U.S. gives you that opportunity, and its all about how you make use of it,” said Varun Medidi, of India. “That’s the American dream. We are motivated by the desire to learn, to build a better future. A lot of people have the American dream, and we do to.”
The full panel included: Diana Ruiz, of Guatemala; Luiza Pessoa, of Brazil; Varun Medidi, of India; Yonatan Ruiz, of Mexico; Shamim Tadrisi, of Argentina; Anton Mochan, of Russia; and Sarah Olmo, an American-born student of Caribbean and European descent. The forum also offered a wide variety of international food, prepared by Brookdale students.
PTK will host “Break the Bias” events each month throughout the school year, continuing in February with a program on tattoos. Learn more about PTK here.
Click here to learn more about the International Education Center and the International Students Association.
Check out more photos of “Break the Bias: International Students’ Stories” here.