Leaving home for college can be a frightening transition for many young adults, as they are cut free from parental supervision to care for themselves for the first time in their lives.
Some welcome this change and thrive in the environment of newfound freedom and self-sufficiency, while other students need time and the help of campus resources, like the counseling or student success centers, to overcome feelings of homesickness.
For international students who make the decision to leave their home country to pursue a college education in another country, they face a new set of barriers that they must overcome — beyond learning to do laundry on their own — to attain social and academic comfort and success, as their families are flights away.
John Abdelmalak, a graduate student at Shippensburg University pursuing a master’s degree in business administration, has been living in Shippensburg for the past three years, and has not had the opportunity to visit his home country, Egypt, since his arrival. While the distance is still discomforting, he is proud of the challenges he has overcome on his own because of it.
“Traveling abroad really brings you to be OK on your own, and once you are on your own there are a lot of things that you get to know about yourself,” Abdelmalak said. “I used to be dependent on my parents, but now I’m here on my own. It really pushed me to look at how I used to do things and strive to be better.”
As of the fall 2018 semester, 63 international students are enrolled at SU; 30 are graduate students, 29 are in undergraduate programs and four are exchange students studying for a semester or full academic year, according to Mary Burnett, associate dean of students and director of international programs.
Compared to the 13 other universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, SU last year ranked second for total number of enrolled international students with 124, behind Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
From 2008 to 2017, SU saw a steady increase in its international student population until numbers dropped at the beginning of this semester. However, Burnett attributes this sudden change in trend to the 32 international students who graduated last May, which is a great accomplishment for SU’s program, but also a great loss.
Burnett has been working one-on-one with international students at SU for the last 13 years, mainly heading the admissions process and making move-in for those admitted as smooth as possible, but also helping students overcome barriers to better acclimate to the new environment.
While every student reacts differently to change, Burnett noticed commonalities in the struggles many international students face, with the top three being language barriers, managing finances and adjusting to American culture.
“When I talk to students who are facing challenges, one thing that I like to do is reassure them that they are not the only one who has gone through it. While the way they are feeling is very valid, other students have also felt that way,” Burnett said. “So one thing we do is connect them with faculty and staff who act as mentors, and these are individuals that will check in with them to see how they are doing so they have another source of support other than me.”
Any new life situation, whether it is beginning a new job, making a big move or studying abroad, takes great effort, time and persistence to conquer. It is not always easy, and international students can attest to this, but many can also attest that the initial hardships are well worth enduring.
Not only is the United States one of the top countries to obtain a college education in, and home to 41 of the top 100 best world universities in 2018, according to Times Higher Education’s rankings, but it can open doors to a world full of possibilities if they are sought out. After all, it is believed that America was founded on the notion that through sacrifice, risk-taking and hard work, anyone can live a life in successful pursuit of his or her own American Dream.
This has already ringed true for Abdelmalak, who because of his life-changing decision to step out of his comfort zone and attend college in the United States, has a job lined up with Volvo Construction Equipment after he graduates. However, now equipped with valuable skills such as communication, adaptability, problem solving and global diversity, his options are not limited to this country, they are endless, as the world is at his fingertips.
“The way I see it, the world is now my home,” Abdelmalak said.