My name is FathiyaWaithera. I am from Kenya and living in the United States to study nursing at a community college. I received a scholarship from the Nurses for Africa program which requires me to return to Africa to provide health care after graduation (Dain, 2009). The rules about arriving in the U. S. are very strict. The scholarship advisors provided a list of the documents I would need and what was expected of me on arrival.
I had to remember where to report and had to make sure I had my documents with me at all times. When I arrived, I presented my passport, the I-20 form, the I-94 Arrival-Departure form, and a customs declaration form. The officer inspected all my documents and asked me to state the reason I wished to enter the country. I remembered to tell the officer that I plan to be a student andprovided the name of the college and where it is located. After the inspection the officer stamped the I-20 form and the Arrival –Departure form (F/M/J Nonimmigrants).
An International Student Services (ISS) staff member from the collegepicked me up at the airport and drove me to the campus. She stayed to help me find my room in the dormitories. After she left, Iunpacked and waited to meet my room mate. She was from Denmark and I supposed we were placed together because she was also an international student. She spoke English and I spoke English but it didn’t seem like the same language to me. We tried to make the best of it, but it was almost impossible to communicate. The weekend before classes began, the dormitory staff held orientation events for the students.
There was a cook out, some social activitiesand a band. I couldn’t understand the language, the food was inedible and I was too embarrassed about my English to take part in the activities. I came to the U. S. believing I was very good at English. I made good grades in this subject and was surprised to find that I couldn’t communicate in the U. S. The other students used so many slang words that it took a long time for me to gather a general meaning and then I couldn’t put together a response. By the time classes began, I was tired, scared, and hungry. The classroom was confusing to me.
Some students came to class late and interrupted the professor; others were noisy and kept up their conversations after the professor arrived. The professor reviewed a syllabus and spoke at length about academic integrity. I was unable to understand much of what she said. They all spoke so fast, spoke at the same time and used terms I was unfamiliar with. After attending a full day of classes, I returned to my room. I was tired and hungry but the thought of eating something from the cafeteria made me feel sick. The food looked, smelled and tasted horrible.
I would have done anything to eat something prepared by my mother. I hadn’t been able to sleep since arriving in the U. S. The dormitory was noisy and although I was used to a lot of people and a lot of noise at home, this was a different type of noise and I couldn’t shut it out. My roommate seemed like a nice person but it was so difficult to communicate that we didn’t really try. I was homesick and lonely. My classes were very hard at first. I wasn’t used to speaking up in class or asking questions. The other students were so casual and seemed disrespectful when addressing the professors.
Many of the assignments required me to work in groups. I was embarrassed about my English when I had to ask someone to repeat what they said or explain what they meant. I had to explain how my name is pronounced over and over. Most of the time, the other students were kind and patient with me, but I knew I made the assignment more difficult for the group. Keeping my grades up, learning the course content, and attending class were my highest priorities. To maintain my visa status, I was required to be a full-time student each semester. That meant that I couldn’t drop a class even if I wasn’t doing well.
It also meant that I had to attend class, no matter how I felt and I didn’t feel well. I had lost some weight because I couldn’t eat the food and still wasn’t sleeping well. My life was made up of studying, going to class, studying, and more class. I wrote letters to my family and indulged in an occasional phone call, but it was important that my family believe that I was successful and doing well at school to about how miserable I felt. A research paper was required in one of my classes. Because I was not familiar with this type of project, I tried to find someone to tutor me in this area.
I looked in the resource package I received at the orientation but couldn’t find anything about tutoring or anythingabout the library. I asked the professor and she said to go to the LRC. I didn’t know what the LRC was and was too embarrassed to tell her. I couldn’t find the LRC and was feeling nervous about completing the project on time. I finally went to see the International Student advisor. He told me that the LRC is actually the library and showed me where to find it. When the professor returned my paper there were questions about resources and citations but my grade was still a B, so I assumed that I was doing fine.
For the next paper, I followed the same process. I found something related to the topic, read about it and wrote a paper. This time, when I received my graded paper, this time a C, the professor again wrote questions and comments about resources and citations and also wrote about academic integrity. I understood that academic integrity was about being dishonest and could be about cheating but I didn’t see the connection between hercomments and my paper. When I received the third graded paper, the professor gave me a failing grade and said that I should meet with her to discuss plagiarism.
I was ashamed and afraid that I would lose my scholarship. I went to see the International Student Services advisor to show him my papers and the professor’s comments. He said would he ask the professor if he could go to the meeting with me andrecommended a tutor for me so I could learn how to write a research paper. I was grateful to have the help butalso humiliated. I had been a top student and had always received praise for my work. The professor approved my advisor’s request to attend the meeting. He told my professor about my academic historyand how classes are conducted in Kenya.
He told her that in Kenya the professor lectured,the students took notes and either passed or failed an exam. They did not ask questions or work in groups outside of class. He explained that I had no experience with writing research papers or independent study but I was a good student and prepared to learn to study in an U. S. classroom. The professor tried to explain what was wrong with the papers I turned in. I still didn’t truly understand and still didn’t understand why the first paper received the grade B, if the problems were so serious. My advisor introduced me to a tutor from the FACET Center.
I had seen the name, FACET, in the resource documents but didn’t understand that it had some association with tutoring. Why wasn’t it called the Tutoring Center? This tutor worked with several international students and suggested that we create a study group. Our group consisted of me, two women from Malaysia and three menfrom Korea. At first, the tutoring sessions were difficult due to the language barriers and the subject matter. Later we began to feel morecomfortable with each other and we all liked the tutor. He not only helped us with our homework, but explained things about the U. S. , American Englishand the college. Each time we met, I felt more confident about asking questions.
The tutor kept encouraging us to join the International Student Support Coalition. He said it was a student organization that would help us get to know other students and feel more comfortablein college and in the U. S. The tutor said that he thought it might be easier for a person speaking English as a new language to take math classes because mathematics are universal and quick mental calculations can be done in a person’s native language.
He said that for international students, a class like psychology or history slows them down because they have to receive the information, transfer it to the brain, calculate the answer,transfer it back to English and then speak. It felt great to have someone from the U. S. understand what I was going through. He recommended that we enroll in math for the next semester to build confidence in our academic abilities. I thought this was a good idea because I had been good at math in secondary school so I planned to focus on math in my second semester. The International Student Services Offices sent us a monthly newsletter.
The newsletter contained information about immigration, SEVIS requirements, and theInternational Student Support Coalition (ISSC) and transfer trips to area universities. Each time I saw the ISSC students, I wanted to be a part of what they were doing but didn’t know how to go about it. My ISS advisor had asked me several times if I was interested but each time I said that my studies were so demanding that I wouldn’t have time to participate. Later in my first semester, my advisor asked me if I would assist him with a presentation for ISSC about African international students.
I was flattered and although I agreed to assist, I doubted my ability to offer something of value to these students who seemed so confident. I worked with my ISS advisor to develop the presentation. I told him about my home and family and he looked up information about Kenya to support my story and we both contributed pictures. When the day came to present, I was very nervous and only followed through because I didn’t want to let my advisor down. During the first ISSC meeting I attended, the group presented their goals as a college student organization.
They asked for help to work for the success of all college international students in ddeveloping scholarship/funding ideas, becoming recognized for efforts and achievements college-wide, and creating a social support network. The organization president said that one of their visions is to serve not only as a resource for international students, but also as a resource to the college in general. He said that he believes an international person can open up a lot of different mindsets in thinking about issues.
I was surprised to see how confident they felt about the importance of their place in this environment. Getting involved in a club for international students has been a good way to start learning about resources and creating a network of support. I met a lot of other students and my English has improved. I learned about a conversation club through ISSC and joined. People in the community host the clubs in their homes. Each person brings a dish, usually something from their home country. The group has dinner together and spendsthe meeting time conversing in English.
I’m starting to make friends and although I’m still homesick, I don’t feel as lonely. My ISS advisor told me that he is expecting two women from Africa next semester. Both will be studying in the U. S. as part of the Nurses for Africa program. Although they are not from Kenya, one is from Ghana and one is from Nigeria, I will try to help them adjust to life in the U. S. by inviting them to be a part of ISSC, and providing information even if they don’t’ ask. I will tell them what the FACET Center is and that the LRC is really the library and to take a math class first!
She may have experienced a more positive adjustment if the following supports had been in place: reassurance and support for the her personal self-esteem, time needed to adjust, information about adjustment patterns and the symptoms of culture shock, the understanding that success at home does not guarantee a successful adjustment in a new culture, and information about the U. S. (Pederson, 1991). Individual approaches, personal characteristics and skill level influence theability to successfully adjust.
The ability to successfully communicate, organize, manage stress, exercise patience, tolerance, courtesy and flexibility are conduciveto adjustment. Perfectionism, inflexibility, obstinacy, ethnocentrism, dependent anxiety and self-centered behavior are traits that are related negatively to adjustment (Hannigan, 1990). One’s cultures of origin (or cultural backgrounds) mediate the importance attached to attending college and earning a college degree. Knowledge of a student’s cultures of origin and the cultures of immersion is needed to understand a student’s ability to successfully negotiate the institution’s milieu.
The probability of persistence is inversely related to the cultural distance between a student’s culture(s of origin and cultures of immersion. Students who traverse a long cultural distance must be acclimated to dominant cultures of immersion or join one or more enclaves. The amount of time a student spends in one’s cultures of origin after matriculating is positively related to cultural stress and reduces the chances they will persist. The likelihood a student will persist is related to the extensity and intensity of one’s sociocultural connections to the academic program and to affinity groups.
Students who belong to one or more enclaves in the cultures of immersion are more likely to persist, especially if group members value achievement and persistence. Fathiya’s commitment to her goals, the importance her family attached to her education, the importance of the vocation she would bring back to Kenyasupport proposals one and two. Her interaction with the International Student Support Coalition and the conversation club relate to proposals three, five and eight. Welcoming new international nursing students relate to proposal seven.
I did not successfully complete my initial college experience and I can see how the cultural propositions relate. I did not have academic and career goals so I wasn’t invested in college. My parents did not have a strong commitment to my college education. My experience relates to proposals one and two. Lack of involvement in a degree program relates to proposals seven and eight. Section III Educatefaculty and staff about the need to learn about a student’s culture of origin.
- Dain, A. “Nurses for Africa. ” Medill Reports (2009). ttp://www. medill. northwestern. edu/medill. Web. Oct. 2009.
- Hannigan, T. P. (1990). Traits, attitudes, and skills that are related to intercultural effectiveness and their implications for cross-cultural training: A review of literature. International Journal of Intercultural relations, 14, 89-111. http://online. culturegrams. com/world/world_country. php? contid=1&wmn=Africa&cid=85&cn=Kenya
- Seidman, A. , (Ed. ) (2005). College Student Retention: Formula for Student Success, Westport, CT: Praeger Series on Higher Education.