International students look forward to going home for the holidays
Junior nursing major Soomin Choi holds a traditional Korean fan from her native land. Soomin feels the language barrier causes her to feel shy and often wishes American students would do the hard part for her and approach her first so she could make friends. | Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES
Abigail McGee, freshman music education major, looks like an American. She dresses like an American, talks like an American and has long, blonde hair and a big, friendly smile. Yet there is one question she dreads the most, out of the many interrogations of typical freshmen: "Where are you from?"
As soon as the words, "I'm from Turkey," come out of her mouth, blank stares and uneasy glances meet her. A student usually answers with a cheeky giggle, "So, do you ride a camel to school?"
INTERNATIONAL SUBCULTURE AT BIOLA
A large subculture thrives within Biola's student body, yet most students don't know it exists. We hear terms like MK, “missionary kid,” and TCK, "third-culture kid," and meet many international students without really knowing who these people are. McGee is one of the many multi-cultural students who attend Biola. Although she speaks perfect English, she still does not quite feel as though she fits in.
"It's not just that they look at me and make a wrong evaluation, but just that they aren't really looking at me,” McGee says.
McGee is not the only one who feels overlooked. Soomin Choi, junior nursing major, finds her close friends in the safe community of Korean students. She said she feels the language barrier causes her to feel shy and often wishes American students would do the hard part for her and approach her first so she could make friends.
Aogu Irie, sophomore English major from Japan, shared his reservations about making friends with American students. He doesn’t get to even see many American students aside from his classes filled with international students. He said that the language barrier is a rough obstacle to get around.
“My roommate is American, but I don’t talk to him that much. I’m shy around American people,” Irie said.
Josephine Tjandra, freshman undeclared major TCK from Indonesia, has no language barrier and an outgoing, bubbly personality. Yet she also said that somehow she still finds it hard to fit in.
"I've had some pretty insensitive comments. A lot of the time I feel like I'm being interrogated, especially once I tell them I'm from Indonesia,” Tjandra said.
McGee, Choi and Tjandra are not anomalies. The percentage of global students on campus looms every year.
"We're estimating there's about 100 to 150 MKs," said Stephanie Sanford, director of global student services. "On top of that there's probably 400 international students, so we're looking at a total community … of between five to six hundred."
Josephine Tjandra, a freshman undeclared major, giggles as she tells of her love of photography and her forgone opportunity to become a model. "I've had some pretty insensitive comments. A lot of the time I feel like I'm being interrogated, especially once I tell them I'm from Indonesia,” Tjandra said. | Ashleigh Fox/THE CHIMES
DIFFERENT UPBRINGING OFTEN GOES UNNOTICED
So much of this diversity has gone unintentionally unnoticed by students and staff.
"People just aren't used to looking, trying to understand someone who's different than them," McGee said. "I see the world very differently, and I've experienced it differently."
McGee finds herself sometimes alienated among her peers, subject to stereotypes or worse — overlooked. She said students assume they know her back-story, so they put her in a box and treat her accordingly.
"For me, it's more frustrating when people act like they understand. Instead of approaching with, 'Let me hear your story,'" McGee said.
Sanford also said the value of third culture students' stories go unrealized.
"Biola has a unique opportunity not only to care for its MKs, but also to tap into their resources," Sanford said.
Many Biolans dream about going out to impact the world, but Sanford explained that the world has come to us in so many ways. She explained that 60 different countries are represented on campus right now — missionary children, internationals and third-culture students have a unique voice.
McGee wishes her friends would grasp this brilliant opportunity to connect.
"Christians do experience, to some degree, the same thing MKs experience in feeling out of place," McGee said. "It's closely related to finding my identity in God … as I'm moving [cultures]."
Biola's mission, said Sanford, is not only to be a global university, but a “kingdom community” where we can understand the world through all of the students and equip them to go out and impact the world for Christ.
The differences between MKs and other Biolans are especially apparent during the holiday season. Many missionary and international students do not make it home for the holidays since home is so far away. Yet there are a few lucky ones.
McGee will spend the holidays with her family in their California home, but sadly stated that she will not be able to see her old friends from Turkey over the holidays.
Choi can’t wait to return home for the Christmas holidays to visit her family in Korea. She looks forward to flying back for the six-week break in order to see all of her friends and family who she misses and hasn’t seen for months.
Irie doesn’t get to go home for Christmas, but he doesn’t mind, he says. He’s made plans to stay over at a friend’s house for the holidays, and attend a special event at his Japanese church.
Even though most international students have to pay much more money for a plane ticket than the average American, they never take for granted the blessing of time spent with family.