What it means to be international — an Idaho State University student perspective
October 31, 2014
By Krystoff Kissoon
Every day at ISU, I meet someone new – not just to me or to the university, but new to America. ISU’s international student population has been rapidly expanding over the past few years, with a current total of 1,381 international students from 55 different countries enrolled, more than we’ve ever had before.
Before coming to ISU, I never truly thought of myself as different. However, I have come to realize how special and unique my Indo-Trinidadian heritage is.
Not only am I different, but I am known for it. As an international student, being international or ‘non-American’ becomes the single most important part of your identity. Before you even speak, it’s the first thing people recognize about you. Without even knowing your personality or your goals and aspirations, they have a preconceived notion of you and your culture.
This can be both a bad and a good thing – bad because we are subjected to stereotypes and racial profiling, but good because we are given the opportunity to do something about it.
In a society plagued by prejudice and gross stereotypes perpetrated by the media, cultural diversity has never been more important. And we must begin with the younger generation in order to secure a more tolerant future, accepting of all differences.
International students have become an integral part of the culture here at ISU, so much so that every year our international-themed nights are some of the most highly anticipated events at ISU.
Each country is allowed to showcase their unique traditions and customs on a night solely dedicated to their students, such as African Night, Japanese Night and Nepalese Night. At International Night, the biggest international event of the year, all cultures are showcased in one multi-faceted show. It is is a celebration of the rich diversity of ISU and the harmony and unity that can exist between a variety of cultures and races living in one place.
International Night 2014 will take place on Saturday Nov. 1 in the Pond Student Union Ballroom. The theme of this year’s show is “A Festival of Festivals” and highlights various national and cultural festivals from around the world.
But while we seek to commemorate the differences between us that make us unique, international students are just like ordinary people. We all came here for the same reason, to get the same education and benefit from the same opportunities.
On a daily basis, international students can be seen sitting around campus with their friends having lunch or grabbing coffee, laughing and sharing stories about their day.
All they want is to go to school, walk their boyfriends or girlfriends to class, play soccer and volleyball, all while adjusting to a completely new culture. Undoubtedly, international students have and always will have it harder than local students, simply because of the language barrier that arises whenever a non-native speaker arrives in a foreign country.
Being an international student means staying awake until 2 a.m. every morning reading a chapter two or three times to get a good grasp on it. It means trying to adapt to a new language, food, dress and way of life in addition to adjusting to the new work pace of college.
It means having to deal with problems on your own because your parents are on a separate continent, and you more than likely have no family in Idaho or even the larger U.S for that matter. For each of us, being an international student means something different, but most importantly, it represents a sense of cultural exchange.
One of the most unique features of ISU is the friendships formed between people of different cultures. Students from all corners of the globe can share their language, music, customs and traditions, broadening our perspectives.
Even as an international student, I didn’t expect ISU to be so culturally diverse. Never had I anticipated that the majority of my friends at university in America would not be Americans but people from different countries. Because of my decision to come to ISU, I now have friends from Japan, Korea, India, Nepal, Jamaica, Spain and Venezuela.
As a common courtesy, we take it upon ourselves to learn small things about each other’s culture, such as how to say hello in Japanese or Hindi so that we may greet our friends in their native language when we meet them.
Not only does this show how much we appreciate them in our lives, but it gives us the opportunity to learn about each other’s heritage so that even after we graduate and return to our home countries, we will carry a piece of each other with us forever.
This is what it means to be different. It is an understanding that we all share, binding us and giving us a common goal to strive towards – to be successful in a place where it can sometimes seem like all the odds are against us. Traditionally, humans have been taught to fear and reject the unknown because they cannot identify with it. But you will never understand us unless you get to know us – our struggles, our strengths, our faith that one day, we will no longer have to check the box marked ‘alien’ on our social security forms.
Krystoff Kissoon is a Career Path Intern in the ISU Office of Marketing and Communications.
He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in international studies.