Culture shock

International students share their stories

When Makullah Makullah came to Liberty University as a freshman, he left his home and his parents thousands of miles away in Tanzania for the sake of a Christian education.

He and his family converted from Islam to Christianity about 10 years ago, after his father was miraculously healed, Makullah said.

TALK — The center held events for local and international students to meet. Photo credit: Allison heise

TALK — The center held events for local and international students to meet. Photo credit: Allison heise

He and both of his brothers chose to come to Liberty because they wanted an environment where their faith could mature.

“We were Muslim before, so when we converted to Christianity, we wanted a place where we could grow,” Makullah said.

Makullah, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, is one of almost 900 international students attending Liberty.

Out of the 84 countries represented at Liberty, the top five foreign countries students come from are South Korea, Canada, China, Nigeria and Vietnam, according to the International Student Center.

The International Student Center (ISC) provides events, advisors and a safe space for international students to relax, Tunya Pannell, operations coordinator and office manager, said.

“This is a home away from home,” Pannell said. “We also have international advisors, a retention specialist and an embedded student accounts representative to assist the needs of our international students at the ISC.”

Estefania Whitesell, operations assistant and health insurance representative, said that approximately 300 to 400 students come by the ISC
each day.

“Students get to build their new support system here, make friends in their own culture, and develop friendships that will last the whole time they will be here,” Whitesell said.

Whitesell, who moved to Virginia from El Salvador three years ago, can relate to international students adjusting to American culture and can help them understand the complications of the healthcare system.

“I can share with them their homesickness,” Whitesell said. “I have been here just three years, and I understand how difficult it can be. That allows me to relate to them on a different level since I’m going through the same things they are sometimes.”

Although Julia Young is not officially considered an international student due to her dual citizenship, she still dealt with the same culture shock after moving to the United States for college.

MEET UP — Students gather in the International Student Center to talk. Photo credit: Allison heise

MEET UP — Students gather in the International Student Center to talk. Photo credit: Allison heise

Young was raised in Brussels, Belgium by an American father and a Belgian mother.

Like Makullah, Young came to Liberty because she wanted a Christian education.

“I wanted a different education than back home,” Young said. “Our school system in Belgium was really good, but it’s not what I wanted. I wanted to have a Christian aspect to my studies, and Liberty was the fit, so that’s why I came.”

Young, a senior majoring in international business and economics, said that the most surprising part of studying at Liberty was the American style of education.

“In Belgium, it’s a pass-or fail-type of education,” Young said. “If you don’t give your 100 percent, you will fail and you have to repeat your year. It’s a very different way teaching. Being able to get an A (at Liberty) was a shock.”

Another subtle difference between the United States and Belgium is the type of humor and childhood experiences, Young said.

“When we do Coffeehouse, it’s full of past memories of your childhood or teenage years, and Americans’ memories are very different from European ones,” Young said.

Although transitioning to the United States from another country is a major adjustment, both Young and Makullah encourage other international students to take advantage of opportunities they have at Liberty.

During his four years at Liberty, Makullah only visited his family in Tanzania once due to cost, distance and other factors. However, he has used his time at Liberty to travel across the East Coast and the South of the United States.

Makullah encouraged international students to “explore everywhere.”

Young believes international students should make an effort to connect both with international students and with American students.

“Definitely have a diverse group of friends,” Young said. “You can’t forget where you came from, and internationals can understand you in those ways.

But it’s good to embrace Americans. What’s the point of being in America if you’re not being immersed in the culture?”

COVEY is a feature reporter.

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