“We eat, sleep, socialize and struggle” — The International Student Experience

Bel Carden, Special Features Editor

The University’s class of 2025 had 11,263 applicants, 3,886 admitted students, 1,035 students who chose to continue their education at the University, representing 43 different countries. According to the University website, of the 3,611 undergraduates currently enrolled in the university for the spring semester, around 200 of these students identify as international students. This means around 5.5 percent of the University student population is international students. On a broader scale, this statistic aligns with the United States percentage which is also 5.5 percent. Although the University does provide resources such as International Student Services to ease the transition of these students into the campus culture, many international students have expressed that such a transition is much easier said than done. To inquire further about these experiences, the Bucknellian reached out to 3 different international students from three different areas in hopes of offering a glimpse of what the University has been like through their lens. 

Many international students were drawn to the University for the same reasons as everyone else: the campus community, notable academic reputation and one-on-one faculty-student relationships which are much easier to cultivate in a smaller university environment. Simbi Maphosa ’23, a student from Zimbabwe, emphasized these points while explaining her other motivations to come to the University. “I chose to come to Bucknell because of the school’s outstanding engineering program and I had no doubt that I would get an excellent education at the school,” Maphosa said. “When I applied to Bucknell, the school was ranked top 10 in the best undergraduate engineering programs. I was attracted to the small classroom setting that would allow me to form close relationships with the faculty and students. Outside of academics, I really liked that Bucknell was a relatively small school located in a small town.”

“Moving to college in a small town made my transition to a foreign country less overwhelming and made it easier for me to adjust to the new U.S. environment and culture. The school was also recommended to me by other students from my home country who were students at Bucknell.” 

Student Wutt Kyi ’22 hails from Myanmar. She highlighted that a contributing factor in her decision to attend the University was the international community reputation and engineering program. “Bucknell is known for its generosity with scholarships and having a small tight-knit international community. I am one of the Davis United World College scholars, which is one of the scholarships affiliated with my high school. I knew that some of the Davis United World College scholars came to Bucknell, so I thought I would be able to find a community here. Additionally, Bucknell’s strong engineering program and its focus on undergraduates really drew me here.” 

Every college student goes into their first year with different expectations or assumptions about what exactly the “college experience” will be. However, many international students have another layer added to this anticipation, wondering what a college experience in the United States will be. Jason Pyon ’24 from Seoul, South Korea explained one of the most surprising aspects of the University was the social scene, specifically surrounding the university’s drinking culture. “I would say the party scene [was surprising]. Drinking in South Korea is more like a communal thing. I get together with my friends and have dinner together, and I would hang out with them for the entire night. Usually, I would go to karaoke, bars and arcade. I am not used to the house party format.”

The party scene here is more focused on socializing with new people and expanding your social network. Whereas in Korea, I would have a certain amount of people whom I would hang out with. It is more about consolidating bonds between people you already know.” 

Maphosa also touched on the unexpected social culture, particularly involving Greek life, that is so normalized in colleges across the country and definitely at the university. “Greek life is something that is uniquely American and does not exist in my home country. In my country, students do not usually have social events on campus. A lot of the activities outside of the classroom are done off-campus. I did not expect college students to party in dorms. Universities in my home country do not offer coed housing options and that is something that I had to get used to in the U.S.” 

She also touched on how the student-professor interactions and overall professionalism on campus differ from her expectation based on Zimbabwe. “The classroom setting at Bucknell is very different from what I had envisioned it was going to be. There is a huge difference between how students here interact with their professors and how students in my home country interact with their professors. Here, students have more informal, casual interactions with professors and usually have personal relationships outside of the classroom.” 

Although there have been many positives in their experiences at the University, there have been equally as many challenges for international students. “I did not know how unsafe a campus can be in the United States,” Wutt noted, “especially for certain groups of people on this campus. After hearing about the University cover-up of sexual violence, I wonder how many cases were shot down and covered up in the past. I wonder how many victims went unheard and seen. I wonder if the people with power and authority even care about the well-being of ALL of the students who they should be serving every day.” 

Wutt and Simbi both touched on how the experience of going to a university in another country has affected their sense of identity. Simbi explained some of these pressures, “When I moved to the U.S. for college, everything from the food, environment, weather, social expectations, people, language, culture, etc. was different and a whole new experience for me. I had to learn a lot of new things about the U.S. culture and figure out a way to integrate my new experiences with my own culture and identity. It has been challenging for me to deal with the cultural differences that I face in a lot of different spaces on campus. Upon joining the University, I felt a lot of pressure to assimilate to the American, white culture to fit into the school and I have found that a lot of people are not very open and appreciative of people who are true to their authentic selves –  especially when it is different from the majority. It has also been difficult to thrive in college with a very small support system as most of my family, who are a huge part of my support system, are not in the U.S.” 

Wutt also emphasized the struggle with self during her time at the University. “In the United States, I am forced to be reminded of my identity almost every second of the day. Living as a minority here in the United States is very challenging and mentally draining both on and off-campus. Here, I have been treated differently and at times mistreated by the domestic students. Is it because of my gender, nationality, race, and/or accent? I do not know.”

“Although International Student Services has been very helpful and supportive, there is room for improvement as an institution. For example, international students do not have our own safe space aside from a global house. Moreover, existing international students should not be carrying the burden of the institution to recruit more international students. If the University truly wants to be more diverse, more finances should be allocated to offices that are recruiting and supporting more international students. Last but not the least, since international students are restricted to only working on-campus during the semester, the current on-campus wage is too low to cover our expenses in the United States.” 

For a university that places such an emphasis on its diversity and inclusion initiatives, some think the University should look more into these student experiences when looking to assess and improve what has already been accomplished. It can be argued these experiences are the true test of the reality of the University’s culture surrounding inclusion. When asked about his expectation, Pyon emphasized he never had any about the United States: “I always thought the way most people live is all the same. There might be cultural differences between Korea and the U.S., but at the core of people’s lives, they are the same. Doesn’t matter wherever you are on the Earth, the way we live our life is going to have similarities. We eat, sleep, socialize, and struggle.” 

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