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A spirit that is not afraid

International students share their experiences of being welcomed in Auburn

In a country inhabited by people of all backgrounds and demographics, it has become a mission of the collegiate world to open their doors to more and more international students.

Auburn University, which had a total enrollment of almost 30,000 students both undergraduate and graduate in 2017, started increasing international recruitment at the undergraduate level in 2011, according to the University’s Office of International Programs.

Thanks to the Auburn Global program and its more specialized International Accelerator Program, Auburn has raised its number of international students by almost 200 percent in the last five years.

The numbers reflect how the University
is improving in enrollment of people from other countries, but it is the impressions
of the students themselves, their thoughts on campus and their overall take on life at Auburn that defines what life is truly like for an international student.

“When I got here it was very different from what I was expecting,” said Arjit Singh, senior in industrial design. “The campus looked familiar because I had seen pictures of it online, but then, with the city, I kind of had the idea that it was a small city but it was still very different from what I expected.”

Originally from New Delhi, India, Singh came to Auburn because of its rank as the third-best industrial design school in the country.

Singh started Auburn as a freshman in 2015 with Auburn Global. He said the program made the transition to American academic life easy and the only challenge came when interacting with Americans from the South.

“It’s an old town and not a lot of people know about other religions,” Singh said. “They kind of just want to stay in their own thing, which is of course not bad, but creates a kind of barrier between them and the rest of the world.”

Besides religion, Singh reports enjoying his time as a student at Auburn and says he felt as welcome as any other student.

His sentiments were shared by Jude Abu Musallam, a third-year civil engineering student who came to Auburn from Jordan because of the school’s reputation.

“I originally wanted to study architecture, and Auburn has one of the top programs in the nation,” Musallam said. “I had visited the campus and had really, really liked it; at first it was kind of weird like I was on a vacation or something, but after a bit it started feeling like home.”

She said the transition to life as an American student was challenging at first.

“At first it was really hard, I did not know what was going on because I was so overwhelmed,” Mussalam said. “I don’t have any family near me, and it was hard not being able to see my friends or my family or anyone from home.”

Thanks to the University, however, she quickly fell into place as a student.

“Auburn Global was such a big help in allowing us to feel more at home,” she said. “The people here are wonderful people, the campus is beautiful and there is a lot to do. It is actually hard to leave Auburn now and go back home.”

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Making Auburn feel like a “home-away-from-home” seems to be the driving force in the University’s international programs, as evident in the recently elected Miss Homecom- ing’s platform.

Morgan Gaston, 2017’s recipient of the University-wide award, based her platform on international students and better acclimating them to American life.

“I had the opportunity to go to China last year, and when I was there, I got to experience what it’s like to be fully welcomed into a community and culture where I did not feel at home,” Gaston said in an interview with The Auburn Plainsman. “They made me feel very at home and at ease and took me everywhere and showed me their culture. I realized I hadn’t done that back [in Auburn], and it was very humbling.”

Gaston’s plan is to better equip the international student organizations of Auburn University to prepare the incoming students for life at Auburn.

Her involvement with China was relevant to Auburn’s international programs, as Chinese students made up over half of all enrolled international students in 2017.

Another program that helps students adapt to life at the university is Auburn’s International Student Organization.

The president of the International Student Organization, Mingyu Zhao, is originally from Beijing, China. Zhao originally came to Auburn in 2015 with Auburn Global and now studies chemistry on the pre-dentistry track.

“Auburn Global had prepared an orientation; in those orientations, they have people called Global Guides which kind of lead you through and lots of them are higher level students,” Zhao said. “With their help, I felt really welcome, I could ask whatever questions I had to them and they would explain everything to me. It was really nice.”

Coming from a metropolis like Beijing, Auburn was quite the culture shock to Zhao, but in a positive way.

“At first I wasn’t really familiar with this

small town life,” she said. “Everything is slow and you don’t have to rush. Especially when I was living at the Hub, I had neighbors who didn’t even know me but they would still say ‘Hi’. That would never happen in big cities ... over here it is really friendly.”

Zhao said she is glad to be so involved with the University and a part of the Auburn Family as a whole.

“When I wear my Auburn shirt, even when I went to Florida or Las Vegas when someone yells at me ‘War Eagle’ I ‘War Eagle’ back and that really feels nice.”

Although it seems a majority of international students who go through the Auburn Global program have positive experiences, coming to Auburn can pose quite a challenge.

“The biggest obstacle that I have is trying to pay for my education,” said Rodrigo Carvalhedo, an Auburn student originally from Brazil. “I got a scholarship, but it’s just for the first year, so I have to work hard to find ways to pay for my education. There are a lot of opportunities that are only available to US citizens, so I am looking for ones I can get.”

Carvalhedo is pursuing a graphic design major, his second college degree.

He said while finding ways to pay for college may be tough, coming to America for school has been more positive than negative.

“It was an adventure in some sort of way, but I was not intimidated by it, I enjoyed it,” he said. “I wanted to come and I knew I would go through this so instead of like complaining and focusing on the bad side of it all I went with it and tried to do the best that I could with it.”

Carvalhedo said the biggest challenge in America is finding food that resembles Brazilian cuisine.

“One thing I struggled with was names for ingredients,” Carvalhedo said. “It’s such a specific thing, like parsley or basil or something like that, so I kind of had to Google translate them all and go to Walmart and try to find them. One thing I have struggled with is trying to find natural juices, I don’t quite like sugary things and you guys have a lot of sugary things here.”

As Auburn University continues to recruit more students from around the world, it seems as though the ones already here are enjoying their time.

With their steadily increasing international enrollment rates, it appears Auburn is truly working on becoming global. 

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