Dec 06, 2012
Yaru Gong of China began studying English when she was seven; she speaks it fluently. But she laughs out loud about the pitfalls of everyday English she encounters at Humboldt State.
“My roommate said, ‘See you later.’ I thought she meant in a few minutes. So I waited and waited outside the door. Then I found out that, in America, ‘See you later’ means this weekend or next week!”
Yaru also was confused by “What’s up?” She took it literally as something aerial, in the heavens, a balloon or an airplane. “When you study English in China, it’s more formal. You’re taught to say ‘How do you do? instead of ‘What’s up?’” Her linguistic experiences are a continuing source of amusement as well as education.
Vladimir Bajic, a Serb student from Belgrade majoring in biology, is among the many foreign students at HSU who say the language barrier is not a major problem. He and his peers are gratified that their studies in the U.S. provide an immersion in, and knowledge of, English that simply cannot be gained in the classroom back home.
“This is my first overseas experience and it absolutely makes you more self-confident about the language,” Vladimir says. “I was worried about the adequacy of my English, but I can understand almost everything in class. If you don’t know one or two words, you can still get the meaning, the concept, even if it’s a scientific or technical one.”
Cross-cultural linguistic revelations have physical counterparts. Kinesiology major Choi Kwun Yu of Singapore, a petite woman, was astounded by the size of HSU football players in her first class this fall. “There are a lot of athletic types in Kinesiology. Walking into class was like walking onto the stage set of ‘Glee.’ We don’t have big guys six feet tall in Singapore!” she exclaims. “And weighing how many pounds? I still think in kilograms, you know, and it’s confusing!”
As for her own athletic pursuits, Choi promptly joined the Hags, the nickname of HSU’s popular women’s Ultimate Disc team. (“Frisbee” is the trademark.) “It’s pure fun,” she says. “Americans are a lot more laid back as players.”
Choi hopes to work at a high-tech lab when she returns to Singapore and she is confident her overseas experience will be a plus with prospective employers. Prior to attending HSU, she spent a year in Austria.
Adds another Kinesiology major, French Canadian Dominique Champagne of Montréal, “What strikes me most about people here is their consciousness of personal health and diet, and how ecologically-minded they are. Living here is making me more disciplined, both academically and physically. I’m doing more study sessions and more outdoor activities. The natural beauty and scenery are an important part of the psychology of sport and exercise.”
Dominique, a senior, agrees that the necessity of speaking and writing English all the time “is great practice. It really is total immersion.”
International students are unanimous that their experiences at Humboldt State and America stimulate self-discovery, amid fun and language breakthroughs.
Yaru Gong, the Chinese student and global studies major from Tong Liao in China’s province of Inner Mongolia, says she has learned that living abroad is a process “of recognizing yourself and recreating yourself.”
It has measurably built up her self-confidence and independence, she observes. “In my two-and-a half years here, I’ve gained the confidence of being able to deal with all kinds of situations. You become much more adaptable and open-minded and you learn to step out of your comfort zone. I believe that helps to prevent misunderstandings across national boundaries, too.”
Yaru’s feelings about transnational understanding are shared by Shinichiro Tanaka of Tokyo, a film major who has been at HSU for 18 months. He describes the campus as a miniature United Nations. The many different cultures are stripping away his false impressions of other nationalities and peoples. “For example, I’ve met a lot of Arabs and people don’t have a good image of them from the news and media in Japan. But meeting them in person, I find that I like them a lot. Also, there are serious international tensions between Japan and China, but now I have a lot of Chinese friends here at HSU and we are really close. I can see people as they really are, without the filter of the mass media.”
This relates directly to learning to think critically and independently, international students say, another advantage of life abroad. This new-found clarity helps to dispel mistaken assumptions about the U.S., formed from Hollywood movies and television programs that circulate globally.
Mawa Mohmand, a Pakistani who was born, reared and educated in Peshawar, is at HSU as a cultural ambassador under a program sponsored by the U.S. State Department. She recounted her prior stereotypes of America. She thought the U.S. would be “perfect, with no social problems, the perfect place.” Now she knows “many Americans are not as secure financially as I expected and many students must struggle financially, too.”
The undergraduate course Mawa is taking in Critical Race, Gender and Sexuality Studies is an eye-opener, she says. She hopes to pursue a medical career in the U.S. and the insights from the course will serve her well in the future, she predicts. “I thought Americans had outgrown issues of class, race, gender and sexuality and of course they haven’t. But what I like about America is that you’re constantly looking for solutions and you fight for your rights. I am extremely grateful for this experience.”
The international presence at HSU is a boon to domestic students, too, a mutual benefit. Carmina Vital, a child development major from Anaheim in her first semester, rooms with Dominique Champagne, the Québécois from Montréal.
“It’s my first experience with a roommate from abroad and Dominique’s presence in my life is definitely encouraging me to study overseas myself,” Carmine commented. “She makes me think, ‘If other people can do it, I can do it too.’ Québec is a place I really want to visit and Dominique has invited me to come stay with her when she goes back to Montréal.”
There are lots of advantages to having friends overseas, notes HSU alum Daeng Khoupradit (’09, International Business), a recruiter in the university’s Center for International Programs. “You have a ‘personal travel guide’ in another country who can tell you where to go, what to do and what to see.”
International experiences broaden one’s mind and perspectives, Daeng adds. “Self-discovery and discovery of the world go hand-in-hand.”