Troy University, where 15 percent of the students are international, is a place where people from all over the globe are on a journey of their own, finding benefits and drawbacks unique to studying here.
Gina Girgis, a freshman computer science major from Alexandria, Egypt, said that she enjoys how different Troy’s natural surroundings are from those back home.
“There are so many things that are different here; the air is not polluted, there is so much greenery around and I can see squirrels running around,” she said. “Where I live is like a box of cement with occasional trees.”
Girgis also said that she loved the friendly and non-judgmental nature of people in Troy University.
“People are so much nicer,” Girgis said. “They hold the doors for you, people talk to each other, even if they don’t know (you), they might smile at you.”
Another feature of living in Troy that Girgis said she enjoys is the freedom to make her own decisions.
“Here I am free to do whatever I want to do,” she said. “I could be religious or not, I could go by a certain rule of ethics or not go by it—everything is truly up to me.”
Girgis said that her experience of the diverse student life at Troy University made her grow as a person.
“There are so many clubs and organizations that we get to be involved in, and in this process, I have made friends from so many countries who have different perspectives,” she said. “You are not in your shell and not in your comfort zone anymore.
“However, I think this is what it is all about—to feel strange, out of place and discover who you really are.”
Despite these positive aspects, Girgis said that she sometimes feels out of place in Troy.
“There is a culture here like everywhere else, and they (domestic students) belong to this,” she said. “However, I don’t belong here, and I don’t feel like home here.”
Sailuja Thapa, a graduate student studying computer science from Kathmandu, Nepal, who has been here for a little over a year, also said that being in a foreign land makes one miss home.
“It is like (the) saying ‘you don’t appreciate anything until it’s gone’,” she said. “Being away from home makes you feel thankful for the family time and all other little things that you cannot find here like festivals or food.”
Thapa said that the biggest difference between Nepal and the U.S. is the reliability of the educational system.
“I like how timely and systemic things are here,” Thapa said. “In Nepal, my four-years’ degree took almost half a year more because of delays and other political issues. I knew I was going to graduate in May 2017 my first day I came here.”
Thapa said the experience of starting from nothing, as many internationals do, helps them grow, mature and learn to deal with real life challenges.
“Being so away from home, (moving) to a new country and starting a new life from scratch all on your own is the biggest challenge,” she said. “Having to deal with variety of people, you feel more prepared and confident to face life problems.”
Balancing work and academics is the hallmark of the U.S. college experience that is new for many internationals.
“In Nepal, all you had to do was either go to school or work,” she said. “Here, you must take care of things from laundry and bills to your job and grades.
“It helps in the overall development of an individual.”
Julian Achemdey, a sophomore biomedical sciences major from Hahoe, Ghana, said what surprised him at first was the difference in demographics.
“Back home we don’t see a lot of white people, so when I came here and was surrounded by white people, I felt like I was in a movie,” said Achemdey. He added that the people were also more welcoming.
However, the United States’ history of interracial tensions sometimes still affects him, which he takes calmly.
“Sometimes I do feel they (domestic students) treat us (internationals) differently,” he said. “Even when someone approaches me that way, I just let it go.”
As many students before him, Achemdey said that Troy lacks recreational opportunities, but added that he considers it a positive point.
“In Troy there isn’t a lot to do,” he said. “That is a downfall for some people, but for me it is good because I have time to study and focus on what really matters.”
Like Thapa, Achemdey said he learned to adjust quickly, relate to people from different backgrounds and juggle school and work.
With work, Achemdey said he was very proud when he got his first check.
“I never worked back home,” Achemdey said. “I never had to work. I’m more independent now.”
Claris Kanife, a sophomore nursing major from Enuqu, Nigeria, also said that she appreciates being able to work while in school.
“If I was in Nigeria right now, I’d fully rely on my parents for pocket money and money to feed myself, but now I’m on my own,” she said. “America just gives you this opportunity to work.
“The work aspect of it helps you become more confident.”
One of the struggles she has to face as an international student, according to Kanife, is that in class she has to go an extra mile to prove that she is correct.
“There are people in class who recheck the answer or ask their friend even if I tell them the answer is correct,” she said.
Another thing that tries her patience is the stereotypical questions that people ask about her country.
“Some people have questions like, ‘Do they speak in English in Africa?,’ ‘Have you been in a car before?,’ ‘Are there cars in Africa?,’ ‘Did you come here in a ship?,’ which is annoying at times,” she said.
The reason why she chose to study in America, according to Kanife, is the quality of education.
“The education system here is better,” she said. “Teachers try to reduce the workload and make it easier for the students.
“At the same time, the system is so consistent. Back home in Nigeria, we have strikes, which is going to affect the whole thing. They push things back a lot more.”