Yvonne Cheng is a freshman from Singapore. She just completed her first semester at Mizzou in the Pre- Respiratory Therapy Program. Coming from the bustling country of Singapore, the slower-paced life in America’s Midwest was a completely different experience. Through on-campus activities and taking advantage of cultural adjustment programs she was able to meet her academic goals, form new relationships, and establish herself in a community of other like-minded students. She shares her story and advice on how international students can get the most out of their first semester while studying abroad in the US.
Studying abroad presents students a great opportunity to expand horizons, establish relationships, and learn skills that can be taken back home and shared with friends, families, and employers. While university is challenging no matter where or what you study, international students face especially unique challenges. However, freshman Yvonne Cheng has found these challenges can be overcome by engaging in a cultural two-way street, which means while you are an ambassador for your country, you should also seek to open yourself up and learn about different ideas and cultures. It has been an enriching experience for Yvonne and is what helped her get over the challenges of studying abroad.
Yvonne noted a Chinese Proverb that has been an inspiration to her during her study abroad experience, “When the winds of change blows, some people build walls and others build windmills”. Below are some tips on how you can “build windmills” during your time abroad.
1. Have reasonable expectations.
I didn’t have great expectations about America because you don’t want to be disappointed when you get here. But DO strive your best!
2. Don’t be fixated on your own views.
If you’re thinking about studying overseas then you have to have the expectation that you are going to be in a different culture and you have to try and prepare yourself to be open and receptive to the culture because you are in a different place and you want to immerse yourself and learn new things instead of cooping yourself up and not being able to accept the different culture and how people think.
3. Build your social network.
Connections are important in America in terms of transportation and meeting people. When I am here if I know people, then I can get things done. It’s not just about you; it helps you grow and brings out the potential within yourself.
I did join the English Language Partners. And the International Center has the American Life program where they pair you up with someone. It’s helpful because they show you the US culture and American English expressions. People in the International Center are really helping me. It is nice that there are people who are always willing to help you and I believe there are many organizations at Mizzou that try to help international students fit in, like Triple A (Asian American Association). It’s just cool because you get to know people with different interests from you.
4. Express your mind. Don’t be shy. Speak out.
5. Be genuine. Be friendly. Be hospitable.
Though being considerably active in adaptation programs in her first semester, Yvonne advises taking your time and ease into the first semester. “For the first semester I kind of took it easy because I wanted to try to adapt and learn about the culture here first. I am holding on to a scholarship so my goals were to get distinction and good grades.”
Though next semester Yvonne plans on also volunteering in the hospital and tutoring young children so she can increase her skills and hands on experience in her field of study. “I think the big idea is to work more in the area of health science. One of the expectations is to gain as much knowledge about respiratory therapy in the medical field. According to a lot of the respiratory therapists in Singapore, America has the best technologies in this field so a lot of them expect me to bring back this knowledge to share with them.”
Yvonne started her academic career at Mizzou with simple, but common questions of: where will I fit in? How will I communicate with my peers? But through her philosophy of engaging in the “cultural two-way street” she has found herself not only succeeding academically, but learning about new cultures, sharing her own, and being established in a community represented by people from all over the world who hold different ideas yet the same values. Her first semester at Mizzou has been successful and rewarding both academically and personally as she strived to open herself up and take advantage of the rich diversity around her.
If you would like to see how another student made here first semester meaningful check out our article by guest blogger Crystaline Poh, “How to Be Successful (and have fun!) During Your First Semester Abroad”
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