Webster international students adapt to a different environment


The saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” These international students are trying to “do as the Americans do.”

Lian de Rijke, Mengting Li, Angela Menéndez Álvarez-Cofiño and Christopher Harless all come from different countries and speak different languages. As international students, they are trying their best to live like Americans.

Giving it a go

Freshman music major Lian de Rijke comes from Leiden, the Netherlands. She started thinking about coming to the U.S. in January 2016.

Not knowing what she wanted to do, de Rijke took her mother’s advice and came to study in the U.S. Her mom works in Webster’s Leiden campus.

De Rijke loves to travel around the world, meet new people and play piano. Webster allows her to combine these things. Staying at Webster is her first experience away from home.

“I became sort of an American citizen,” De Rijke said.

De Rijke said she did not pack any bedding. She was freezing at night for the first week and a half and caught a cold.

Colloquial and slang expressions were a bit troublesome for De Rijke. She was not very confident with her English, so going to places alone or talking to people she did not know was not easy. Dutch words still come out of her mouth unconsciously sometimes.

“I need to start thinking in English,” De Rijke said. “I will get there.”

De Rijke noticed some changes. She was surprised to learn that people in the U.S. have their own car at such a young age. College kids cycle everywhere in the Netherlands.

De Rijke intended to stay for just one semester, but now the hospitality makes her want to stay longer.

“People are so nice here,” De Rijke said. “They really care about how you are doing. Sometimes they forget that I am [an]international student and they don’t treat me as different or something. I like that fact.”

Getting prepared

Junior Mengting Li from Shenzhen, China, had a smooth start due to sufficient preparation. She had her local phone number ready, and even a travel plan for the 12-hour layover in Los Angeles.

To study abroad means extensive mental and physical preparation. Li had a vague idea of transferring overseas. The chance to improve herself academically and to live a challenging life motivated her. She seized the opportunity to come to Webster without hesitation.

Loads of paperwork and overseas communication came to her thereafter: transcripts, bank statements, school and visa applications, embassy interviews and flight reservations. Even when everything was settled for departure, packing was not pleasant.

“My mom worried a lot and tried to pack everything for me, just in case I couldn’t buy it here,” Li said.

Li took advantage of communicating with her International Connection Leader. She got useful information about living in St. Louis and studying at Webster.

Though Li prepared a lot, some things still surprised her. She is not accustomed to the fast speed people talk. Various accents sometimes confuse her. Over-excited freshmen in class and serious-looking professors shocked her a little bit.

Finding identity

Senior Christopher Harless from Geneva, Switzerland, is actually an American citizen. Harless speaks perfect English with a typical American accent.

Having been to the East Coast many times for leisure, Harless has to focus on the fact that he is actually here for school. He wants to discover what America is during his four-month stay.

“I want to discover why my parents chose to make me an American, even though I was not living on American soil for the most of my life,” Harless said.

Harless found something surprising. The first week here before knowing anybody, he had to walk 20 minutes for grocery shopping.

“It’s impossible to do your shopping, or to go out without a car,” Harless said. “All I want to do is buy a car.”

Harless also complained about the air conditioning. Constantly changing temperature inside and outside made him sick.

A new lifestyle

Junior exchange student Angela Menéndez Álvarez-Cofiño comes from Oviedo, Spain. This is the first time she has lived in the U.S. on her own.

The paperwork to get her visa done was annoying, but she felt it was worth it. Packing her whole life for one year in two suitcases was also not easy.

Hand shaking instead of kisses on the cheek made Menéndez Álvarez-Cofiño feel people are “cold” here. To see people eat alone and quickly was also strange because people have longer lunch breaks in Spain. The close student-teacher relationships helped immerse her at Webster.

“University is a lifestyle,” she said. “It’s a period of your life.”

To adjust her daily time schedule to be more American, Menéndez Álvarez-Cofiño had to change her habits.

“I just want to be in the culture,” she said. “I just want to live my U.S. year as a U.S. citizen.”

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  1. Tht’s a good motto: do as the Americans do, because being an international student isn’t easy, given our complex culture and language. Assistance must come from numerous sources to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey. Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand so we all have a win-win situation.

    One such new award-winning worldwide book/ebook that reaches out to help anyone coming to the US is “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” It is used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors. It also identifies “foreigners” who became successful in the US and how they’ve contributed to our society, including students.

    A chapter on education explains how to be accepted to an American university and cope with a confusing new culture, friendship process and daunting classroom differences. Some stay after graduation. It has chapters that explain how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.

    It also has chapters that identify the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.

    Good luck to all at Webster or wherever you study!

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