Liberty international students face unique challenges in a new country

For many students, the first semester of college is hard. It is a challenge to be in a new place where everyone and everything is foreign. For Aline Aidar, a freshman at Liberty University, moving from Brazil to go to college made it twice as hard. 

Over 700 international students from 75 different countries travel every semester to the United States to get a degree from Liberty University, leaving their families and everything familiar. 

“I think the first two weeks were the most difficult ones,” Aidar said. “I was here all by myself, and I had to get to know the system.” 

According to Tara Watkins, the international students retention specialist, most of these international students have to face culture shock, which is the sense of disorientation that people experience when they have to adapt to a different social or cultural environment. 

“I admire international students,” Watkins said. “It is a huge step to come to college in the first place — even when American students leave home to come to college, internationals have done that — multiplied by a lot.” 

Watkins said although studying in a different country is hard, international students work to overcome cultural change. Most of them average a 3.0 or higher GPA.

Many international students like Aidar have to adapt to the culture change. 

“We kiss to say hi, but in America they don’t do that, and that kind of shocked me,” Lucas Grassis, a freshman student from France, said. “I never know what I am supposed to do when I meet people. Do I hug them? Do I shake their hands? Sometimes it is hard.” 

Students who come from other countries said that they learn from the American culture every day, leaving the differences behind. 

“Korea is really big with respect to the elderly,” Jenny Kim, a junior student at Liberty, said. “Here everyone is friends in a sense, no matter if you are older. I like that. It brings everyone together; (it) brings the wall down between you and your elderly.”

However, international students also appreciate when people from the U.S. are open to learn from them and keep an open mind about their culture in situations that can be misunderstood.

“I would like (Americans) to know that if I am speaking Spanish it is not because I am offending them,” Rebecca Lopez, a junior student from Ecuador, said. “If you hear me speaking Spanish it is because sometimes I just want to speak my native language, so don’t get offended if you hear another language.” 

Flags of the nations are featured at Global Focus Week yearly (photo by Leah Seavers)

Overcoming the obstacles between cultures are a small part of establishing relations with the international students, and they said they appreciate when those obstacles are torn down.

“The biggest barrier is fear and understanding that we need to treat everyone as unique individuals,” Kike Caycedo, a student worker from the ISC, and a senior student from Colombia said. “Just clear out your mind if you have stereotypes, talk to the person just as if you were meeting any other person. That person might have an accent or not, but try to overcome that.” 

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