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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Abroad at Brandeis: International Student Stories

Published: February 11, 2011
Section: Features, Top Stories

In pursuit of their independence, five students from five separate countries decided to spend four years abroad in the United States. Searching for a small, tight-knit and community-driven experience, these five international students landed at Brandeis. Though their experiences are different, each student shares the same drive to make the best out of their four years in an American University. These are their stories:

John Wong ’12 is one of the few Malaysians at Brandeis. To him the most important aspect of studying abroad is meeting new people and learning about their different ideologies. He chose Brandeis not only because of its good national rankings, but also because he wanted to get as far away as from home as possible. Immersing himself in a society where there are very few Malaysians gives him his chance to learn about differnt people.

“Being in the U.S. and being one of the only students from my country gives me the advantage of growing outside my own experience,” says Wong.

Before Wong came to Brandeis, his impression of the United States was based entirely on movies. Thus, he imagined the classic American teenager as a jock running around with his cap backwards. Expecting the American college environment to be much crazier, like a scene out of American Pie, Wong experienced a small amount of culture shock.

Wong describes his first year at Brandeis as a life changing experience. He made sure to meet a variety of people, improve his English, and distinguish himself from other foreign students. While in Malaysia, students are encouraged to take more practical subjects such as economics, Wong took advantage of the American system of taking classes that are more fitting to his interests, such as physics.

“When people ask me what my major is, I usually say ‘not economics.’ That usually distinguishes me from 90% of foreign students,” he says.

As he intended, being one of the only Malaysians at Brandeis had its advantages.

In Wong’s opinion, studying abroad is instrumental to learning about a new culture. He believes that there is no use in going to another country if one is just set on studying.

Nora Li ’13, also came to Brandeis in order to meet and learn about new people. Li grew up in Shanghai, China, and was always fascinated by the American university sub-culture. Li was looking to expand her social network, searching for a smaller school, thus Brandeis held the greatest appeal to her. One of her favorite aspects of Brandeis is the small professor-to-student ratio that one does not find in larger universities.

During Li’s first year in an American university, she was shocked to discover that American students do not exchange gifts with their professors.

In China, giving gifts to a professor, especially during the Chinese New Year, is considered a token of respect and appreciation. Here, however, a professor might consider it an act of bribery.

“I liked one of my professors here very much. I decided to give her some fine black tea. I was surprised to find that she wasn’t completely excited about the gift. She seemed a bit embarrassed and hesitant to accept it,” says Li.

Li is a business major and plans on going to graduate school after college. Currently, she is trying to integrate both the Chinese and American cultures into her education. While she helps out with bc3, the Brandies Chinese Cultural Connection, she has also tried out clubs where she is one of the only non-Americans. For example, in her freshman year, Li participated in the 24 hour musical.

Li explained that studying abroad gives her a chance to experience new methods of learning. In China, the classroom setting is very lecture based. Thus discussion based classes are a new phenomenon for Li.

“I bring the Chinese culture here. It’s interesting that sometimes I can see the things that Americans can’t. If you grow up in this culture, you accept everything as the norm,” she says.

Yosep Bae ’13, hailing from South Korea, describes an experience both similar and yet different from Li’s. Feeling that there was some sort of barrier to what he could learn in the Korean education system, Bae had his heart set on studying abroad since middle school. Like Li, he also describes a classroom setting in which there was very little discussion outside of the lecture. He heard about Brandeis from his college counselor and was deeply impressed.

Bae intentionally chose to join clubs that were not related to his ethnicity, and he is now the coordinator for Waltham Group’s General Tutoring Program.

“Waltham Group is a really good link for me to observe American society and at the same time build connections with non-Korean students,” he says.

Like Wong, Bae believes that it is very important for international students to make friends with students from other cultures. In his opinion, international students can learn from each other while also learning from the American lifestyle.

Bae’s strangest encounter in America took place on a subway. A rather uneducated man had asked Bae where he was from. After Bae politely answered “Korea,” the man had retorted “Don’t nuke our country.”

Nevertheless, Bae’s experience in the United States has been a positive one. However, he currently has military duty looming ahead in the near future. Two years of military duty is a requirement in Korea. Afterwards, Bae plans on continuing to business school.

Two other international students are Daniela Dorfzaun ’14, from Ecuador, and Michael Mutluoglu ’14, from Israel.

Before coming to Brandeis, Mutluoglu served in the Israeli Defense Force. One of his goals in coming to Brandeis was to enhance his social network and meet new people. Through the International Club and The Student Philanthropic Front, Mutluoglu tries to stay connected to the Brandeis Community. He also joined the Brandeis Zionist Alliance in an effort to bring more speakers to Brandeis.

While Mutluoglu is impressed with the variety of clubs that Brandeis has to offer, he is shocked by American eating habits.

“Here, people eat everyday pizza and hamburgers,” Mutluoglu says with a laugh.

Dorfzaun also decided to study abroad in an effort to diversify her social life. She was especially attracted to Brandeis because of its history of activism. At Brandeis, she saw the opportunity to change the world and do what she loves. She is now a member of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) and Student Events.

“I like feeling that I can do something for the world. When I’m part of a community, I like working for it and giving all I can to make it as best as it can be. It’s how I grew up and it’s my way to really feel the Brandeis pride,” she said.

While they may all come from different backgrounds, these five students all came to Brandeis in an effort to meet new people and learn about different cultures. All five of the international students agree that it is up to the student to decide how his or her Brandeis experience will turn out. The key is putting aside the books every once in a while and exploring the actual community and world around you.