An International Student’s Perspective on College Culture

Story & Photo by Xavier Mendoza

As American students, college life was not too hard to adjust to, maybe seeming like a bigger high school. To junior Ji-an Lee, it was not just another school, it was another country.

Lee is from South Korea and came to America as an exchange student in Traverse City. She decided to come to America after liking the environment.

“When I came here [in high school], I did not know I would come here after,” Lee said. “I decided to come here after enjoying my experience in Traverse City. People were really nice and I liked all the stuff I was able to do in high school.”

The Importance of Getting Involved
Although international students tend to have a stereotype of staying with their own group, Lee is involved in multiple organizations on campus, including Student Government Association as the membership director, president of Asian Cultural Organization, Cultural and Global Residential College as a peer mentor, IMPACT as the assistant registration coordinator and president of Model United Nations.

As a student, Lee says it is not hard to try to juggle all the organizations at once while being a full-time student.

“You just have to keep doing what you’re doing,” Lee said. “Don’t think too in-depth or it will stress you out. Just do what’s [in front] of you all the time and then when you complete all your tasks, you’ll feel great at the end of it.”

In regard to the student culture, she feels that many of the international students are misunderstood.

“A lot of international students, from my experience, are very passive,” Lee said. “They don’t look for opportunities due to the intimidation. They feel intimidated by the language barrier, culture shock, being away from home, friends and family. It’s more intimidating than anyone can possibly imagine.”

Lee said that she also felt this way at first.

“Just going to school and going to classes is overwhelming as it is,” she said. “But, once you overcome that stage, many choose to finish their academic achievements and go home, or some would go beyond that and test their limits. Personally, it took me my whole freshman year.”

Find People to Support You
Lee explained how important support systems are when adapting to a new environment.

“If I had a better support system when I first started, I would probably have gotten out of my shell faster. I had personal issues that kept from doing the activities I do now.”

Lee gave advice to international students who are just coming in to their first few months of American college and for those still dealing with the intimidation factor.

“If you just ask for help and show your interests and do your best to [break the stereotype], there are a lot of people in this campus, including myself, [that can support you],” Lee said. “I hope that you set higher expectations for yourself and not just the expectations people set for you.”

In Korean, Lee’s favorite quote is: “포기란 배추를 셀때나 하는 말이다”, which roughly translates to, “‘give up’ is not in my vocabulary. In Korean, the phrase, ‘give up’ is only used as a unit to count cabbage!”