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International students settle into the American culture

The following appeared in EIU’s Fresh! magazine on November 12, 2012.

By Lauren Thomas, Staff Reporter

Ho-young Kim and Haizhou Li

Each school year Eastern welcomes over 100 international students from dozens of countries to learn and be a part of its community.

According to Kevin Vicker, Director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, this year there are 153 international students from 41 countries, Most of them come from India, China, South Korea, Nigeria and Nepal. Haizhou Li is one of 13 international students from China this year. Li, a senior applied engineering technology major, came to Eastern three months ago and said he has been having a pleasant experience. “I make a lot of friends at Eastern,” Li said. “Everybody body around me is very nice.” Ho-young Kim is one of eight international students from South Korea.  This is also his first semester at Eastern. “I’m adjusting very well,” he said. “I’m satisfied right now. I like my classes.”

Li and Kim are roommates this year and are sharing the experience of adapting to a new culture. Both said the biggest challenge they have faced so far has been the language barrier. They knew English before they came to America but not as well as they thought. “It’s hard communicating with native speakers,” Kim said.

Li said that the language barrier sometimes affects him in his classes.
“At Eastern sometimes I can’t understand the words the teacher says so I think about something else,” he said. Since they arrived at Eastern, Li and Kim have taken extra steps strengthening their English and communication skills.

“Sometimes I don’t understand what people say and I ask what’s the meaning,” Li said. “I ask a lot of questions because I am curious about the culture.”
He said he tries to step outside of his comfort zone by talking to people from different backgrounds.
“I don’t just stay with Chinese friends here,” he said.

Kim said he likes to challenge themselves by having conversations with native speakers to strengthen their skills. “I just keep communicating with friends and my roommates and a few other people,” Li said.

While adjusting to their new American lives, one of the major differences they both noticed between America and their home lands was food. “At first I thought American food was very delicious but after every day eating pizza it’s tiring,” Li said.  Kim said his stomach had to get used to the new foods he was introduced to.
“Sometimes it’s good for me but sometimes it’s too difficult digesting,” he said.

Li and Kim said they have been able to introduce their own culture to their friends. “I find that some people are very interested in China,” Li said. He said he has shared his culture with his new American friends by sometimes preparing green tea for them and introducing a few of them to Renren, the Chinese equivalent of Facebook. Kim said he shares his culture through being a member of the Asian American Association and has given a presentation about Korean pop culture.

Li and Kim said they both have learned more about American culture through their roommates. “George and Dan have helped me so much,” Kim said. “They always ask ‘Are you OK?’ and check on me.”

Dan Tricoli, a junior business management major, said they do ordinary things together. “We went bowling, we went to the rec, we party with them,” he said. George Demos, a senior marketing major, said he and Tricoli do things that are ordinary to them but new to Li and Kim.  “We just let them come along with our daily lives,” he said.

Last month Li and Kim visited a pumpkin patch and carved a jack-o-lantern for the first time. Their roommates have also taken them to amusement parks, dance clubs and parties. “We have a lot of fun together and we get to try new things,” Li said. All four roommates said they have become very good friends since they began living together. “We’ve all gotten pretty close,” Tricoli said.

Tricoli and Demos have invited Li and Kim to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Kim will be spending the holiday with Demos and his family while Li will be with Tricoli and his family.

Since they have been at Eastern both Li and Kim said they have not noticed any major differences between their cultures and American culture. “I think there are no big differences with America and China,” he said. “Before I came to America I thought maybe I will meet lots of culture shock but I didn’t see any.”

Lauren can be reached at llthomas2@eiu.edu