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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?"


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


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. 

Your Turn.  Post a Comment

  1. Lance Johnson

    Being an international student isn’t easy, given our complex culture and language. Assistance must come from various sources. A new award-winning worldwide book/ebook to help anyone coming to the US is "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” It paints a revealing picture of America for those who will benefit from a better understanding, including international students. Endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it also identifies “foreigners” who became successful in the US and how they contributed to our society, including students.
    A chapter on education identifies schools that are free and explains how to be accepted to an American university and cope with a new culture, friendship process and classroom differences they will encounter. Some stay after graduation. It has chapters that explain how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work for an American firm here or overseas. It also has chapters that identify the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
    Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and books like this to extend a cultural helping hand so we all have a win-win situation. Good luck to all wherever you study!
    December 6, 2013

  2. Dave de Vos

    Congrats, Tiffany! Well done. December 6, 2013

  3. anonymous

    As another MK, this is wonderful. I hope a lot of people see this article, because it's truthfully indicative of the life we live here at Biola. I get the same looks, the same insensitive questions, the same ignorant assumptions, and the same insecurity around campus, and I'm really glad someone finally took the time to notice and say something about it. It may have just been an assignment to you, but it means a lot to me. December 7, 2013

  4. Josh Kristianto

    Well done December 7, 2013

  5. Christy de Vos

    Nice job, Fiffy! I thought this was an excellent piece. Well worth the read! :) December 9, 2013

  6. Barbara de Vos

    It takes a sensitive American to see this and reveal so eloquently international students' perspectives. It's something that I know most Americans never consider, and I think this article will help many to reach out in a more considerate fashion. I always wondered why international student usually congregated in what I thought of as 'cliques', why they didn't interact with the rest of us. I had no idea that it was because so few reached out to welcome and include them. It makes me sad that I was so ignorant as a student. Way to go, Tiffany. Keep speaking to us Americans and reaching out to internationals, MKs and TCKs! And where I can, I will to. December 17, 2013

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