Students Share an International Point of View

BY: DIANE VAY

When studying away from home, there are many things to consider on top of transportation, living expenses, placement exams and registering for classes. According to Campus Facts Fall 2015 on csulb.edu, there are nearly 2,000 students from foreign countries. DIG Magazine talked to six international and exchange students, who shared some of their experiences after coming to CSULB.

Meng Long Cong, 25, educational psychology major

Meng Long Cong, 25, educational psychology major

Cong is an international student from Qingdao, China. He said CSULB provides a program that focuses more on research methodology compared to other schools. He has lived in Long Beach for the past three years. During that time, he says he lived next to a drug dealer on Coronado Avenue.

“He lived in a garage. A lot of people got in and out of his garage. I heard from the police it wasn’t a good area. I lived there for one year and within two blocks and there were police cars that blocked the back side of Coronado twice. There was a helicopter, too. I was just watching TV with my roommates and didn’t know what they were looking for.”

He said there were at least 10 cop cars each time the street was blocked. Cong moved out last month.

“Before coming here, all I knew about Long Beach was Snoop Dogg,” Cong added.

He is currently working toward his master’s degree. After that, he wants to earn a Ph.D., do more research and teach at at an American university, such as a CSU, he said.

Ayla Dickert, 23, economics major

Ayla Dickert, 23, economics major

Dickert is a study-abroad student from Schweinfurt, Germany. Dickert has also attended CSULB since August. She said one of her friends -an alumni- recommended this university to her. She always wanted to study at an American school. Two years ago, she had a roadtrip along the West Coast, which is when she decided she liked California. Dickert says she wanted the beach and the sun near her. She also liked the people, who she says are friendly.

“I think the student life is way different than back home in Germany. Over here, you have to do homework, assignments every week and you have tests and everything that counts into your grades. In Germany, it’s typical that you only have one final exam after a semester... Here, you have to attend the class, and in Germany, you don’t have to. So, you can choose if you go to a university or if you study by yourself at home. That’s a big difference, but I think the good thing over here is that it keeps you on track. I think over here, they care a lot about the students because they have so much sports activities, clubs and the recreation center. In Germany, we have something like that, but very, very little of it. Like, one or two clubs for soccer and volleyball, and that’s it. Or, like a small gym. Over here, you can spend a whole day at the university and that’s what I like about it.”

“I think the life here is easier -- they take it easier. People are way friendlier than back home. For example, you say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ -- even if it’s way more superficial. Especially in Germany, you have to really have to get to know them until they are nice to you. They won’t say hi to you even when you’re in a store. I actually think it’s harder to get to know people from America, specifically because they are superficial and just say ‘Hi, how are you?’ but then they don’t go in too deep and say ‘Do you want to do something?’ When people from abroad come over to us, we try to hang out with them. I only get to know Americans when I go out or when I’m on a boat trip, but, at a university, it’s a little hard.”

Gautam Prakash, 24, computer science major

Gautam Prakash, 24, computer science major

Prakash is an international student from New Delhi, India, who is working toward his master’s degree. He chose to attend CSULB because of tuition costs, which is about $15,000 less than the other schools he researched. Prakash applied to seven schools before choosing this one. He has studied here since Fall 2015.

When Prakash arrived at the U.S., he said he noticed several differences compared to India.

“India is much, much more corrupted compared to the U.S. Even for jumping a red light, I could just bribe the cop a hundred rupees [currency] and get away with it.”

Prakash said he’s bribed a cop before and wasn’t prosecuted.

“I knew if he scanned me, nothing would come, but I was having beer in the car. You aren’t allowed to drink in public. I was driving in my car, and I had a pint of beer, which was open. I think things are much more stricter [here] and that’s the reason society is able to function much better. People actually really do follow the rules and they’re scared of breaking it. In India, it totally depends who your contacts are. You can get things done with a small amount of money under the table, but that thing is changing. Nowadays, people are getting more strict. Right now, India is going through a change around the past two years.”

“Yes, we [in India] do have old-fashioned thinking… We have poverty and all, but we have a sense of society. I would talk to my neighbors more. I would have my friends around, and we would almost meet every day. I would have my family around. It’s a common thing to sit down together in the evening and share how your day was or how something was. What I have noticed over here, during the weekday -- people meet different people on the weekend -- but, weekday, people are so monotonous. During the evening, your neighbors or someone -- everyone is just concerned with their life. It’s something like, yes, you’re in a society, but you’re still alone. That thing isn’t there when you’re back in India. At some level, we’re used to people interfering with our lives.”

When Prakash arrived here, he made friends with other students from India. He said he was shy at first, but began meeting new people. Prakash said he was concerned about his accent and how to approach others correctly.

Nur Aaliaa Ayuri Rujhan, 21, liberal studies major

Nur Aaliaa Ayuri Rujhan, 21, liberal studies major

Rujhan is an international student from Putrajaya, Malaysia. She has studied at CSULB for three years. Her sister was studying at San Francisco State University when she mentioned this school as an option. Rujhan decided to study here after finding out that one of her family friends from Malaysia also applied as an international student. They had never met before and decided to live together in an apartment outside of campus.

Rujhan said she thought people would be less accepting of her headscarf, which she considers a part of her identity. Her mom told her that she had the option of taking it off. Rujhan, who is also half-Japanese, chose to wear her headscarf to fit in with her elementary school classmates in Malaysia. She also attended a boarding school that required headscarves as part of the dress code.

“After coming here, it’s, like, totally different. Like, people were more friendly, accepting, so I had no problems with the people here, so I really, really like how the people here tolerate...other people that are different than them. It was before I came here that [my mom] told me to be careful and stuff… She used to come to the United States, but that was a long time ago, so she had a different perspective about the states.”

“There were some experiences with people shouting at me… They all think that all Muslim people are Arabic, I think? I don’t get offended or anything when they shout at me because I know they don’t understand it. Probably, [because] they’ve never been with people who are Muslim, so they kind of have this stereotype, and I get it mostly from old men who gave this bad talk. Sometimes, I ignore and smile at them. That’s one of some experiences that are kind of scary, but, most of the time, it’s OK. But, I like it here. I learned to be open-minded once I came here. You feel like you’re the majority people when you go back home, but when you come here, you feel like the minority, so it feels really different. That’s what I learned when I came here. I learned a lot. Being a minority here taught me a lot to understand how other people feel.”

Safwan Najjar, 23, aerospace engineering major

Safwan Najjar, 23, aerospace engineering major

Najjar is an international student from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He lived in San Diego for a little over a year before attending CSULB. His brother was a student on campus and graduated in May.

“One thing that I kind of notice here… Maybe it’s a college thing, because I wasn’t in college in my country… but in schools and things like this, everybody knows everybody, but, here, it’s not exactly like that. Like, you can be with many classmates, but you never talk with them in class. It could be a college thing, but it could be a cultural thing here. I’m not sure. Part of the interesting things here in Long Beach... [is that] it’s so diverse -- people from everywhere. I love this. This is so nice. I got used to it, even when I go back and visit my city, I miss the diversity here.”  

Reina Hoshino, 21, communications major

Reina Hoshino, 21, communications major

Hoshino is a study-abroad student from Yokohama, Japan who’s been at CSULB since this August. Hoshino says she has dreamed of studying in the U.S. since she was in middle school. Her first time in the states was in 2012 when she went to Virginia on a class trip. She visited California two years later.

After coming to CSULB, she noticed that students behaved differently in class compared to others in Japan.

“I found that in class, in lecture, many students [asked] questions or gave opinions, which never happens in Japan. In Japan, students just listen to their professor and never give their opinion during a class. It depends, but in most cases, Japanese university students don’t take class seriously, so they are just talking to friends during the class or on Facebook, I don’t know, but they don’t really listen to the class and professor. People here are more likely to give their individual opinion. Japan is a country of collectivism, which makes Japanese more like the importance of ‘be in harmony.’ They really care about the atmosphere, so they don’t really want to give their opinion, but, here, it’s different.”

“I don’t know if it can be applied to all the cases, but the medium-sized [meal] in Japan is a small size. A large size is a medium size here. When I go to the supermarket, they sell bigger stuff like ice cream or pizza. Pizza is very different in size -- it’s much smaller. You can have a bigger size, but you’ll have to pay additional costs.”

Aside from food costs, there were other things Hoshino had to consider. She said she thought of moving in with her father, who lives in Newport Beach, but then thought about the hour commute to Long Beach. Hoshino found a host family close to campus.

Hoshino said her home university, the International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo, does not have an exchange agreement with CSULB.

“If I was an exchange student, my home university would do everything for me,” Hoshino said. “Because I’m not an exchange student, I have to do everything myself.”