My New Definition of an International Student

When first arriving in America at the age of 16, Lin Doh from Vietnam put herself in a “box” because of all the difficulties she faced as an international student. Slowly, she started to come out of that box. Learn more.

Lin Doh is an international student from Vietnam studying at the University of New Mexico. She submitted the following article to International Student Voice Magazine: 

Have you ever heard about the America dream? Have you ever heard about international students? I heard about the America dream since when I was a child. It was also my parents’ dream and a personal dream of mine to make this dream come true. It was not a surprise that my parents decided for me to go to “the country of dreams”- America. At the age of sixteen, I brought with me to the U.S. a “pink world”, a world filled with amusement and different experiences that would lead me to my many successes. With big dreams and hopes, I began my journey, a journey that I would have never imagined my young self being on.

I first heard about America when my dad told me about all wonderful things that it has to offer. From beautiful cities to how civilized the people are, I couldn’t have imagined what this “promise island” would look and feel like. Everything that was in my mind at that time was so bright and beautiful. I had prepared a lot and really tried to fight for this dream of mine. However, life is not always what I expect it to be. Finally, when I first stepped my foot on American soil, yes it was bright and beautiful like I would have imagined, although I slowly began to realize that my dream of becoming successful in something was still far away. Goals suddenly became a lot harder to reach. Being able to reach things that seems so simple but not easy, there were lot impossible and so unexpected things from what I have thought about study oversea was easy. Life as an international student became tremendously challenging and it brought be a lot of difficulties that I was not used to deal with such as communication and culture problems. I failed a lot, but slowly I became stronger and started to know my strength and weaknesses more.

How is an international student different from an in-state student you might ask? Here is how I define that term. I started being an international student when I became a sophomore at Heritage Hall back in Oklahoma. Isn’t it funny how a high school student doesn’t even know how to open a locker, count coins, and follow the rules of school? Yup! I was pretty lost, but that’s not all. The language was the part that gave me the most difficulties. According to Tompson & Tompson (1996), these days being international student is a trend. A lot of people study aboard. The biggest problem that international students have in the classroom is participation. English is the second language for almost international students. That is why international students have a fear to speak in English. They do not feel confident. Many teachers noted that international students were scared to attend the class activities and usually talk less in class. I couldn’t understand English in the ways that the other student spoke very well. Their slangs and jokes, what?? When I talked, they didn’t understand me either. Every time someone talked to me in English, my heart started to beat faster and faster. I got so scared to communicate with the people that I had to see every day. In my head, I would always think that my peers would laugh if they heard me talk because I did not pronounce certain words correctly. I couldn’t eat the food that were served at school because it was so culturally different which meant that I had to bring lunch every day. My transcript was divided into three parts: Math, Science and English. The Vietnamese – English dictionary became my best friend. I got tired of thick history books that caused me to stay up all night to complete multiple readings and presentations.

The culture shock was something I would have never imagined. It was also difficult because I had missed a lot of what I used to do traditionally every year being with my family. I had to do everything by myself. I felt as if I was stuck. The feeling that I once felt being surround by my loved ones was not there anymore. I felt out of touch, out of my bubble. I did not fit in with the new environment. I had no friends and was very lonely, though I did not want my family to know about my situation because I did not want them to worry. From that point on, I started to put myself into a box. According to the interview of a Chinese student, because there are a lot of changes such as time zone, language, culture, friend that lead to not comfortable with the community and cannot focus on their work. They do not usually attend other activities for example sport. Beside the class times, I went around the school hall, during break times I would stay alone in the library and not communicate with anyone. I went to home after class if I did not have work that day. People at school usually knew me as “the most silent person in the school”. I started working by myself, I did not talk unless I had to or if it was necessary.

As time went by I gradually took myself out of that “box”. I began to ask myself, why did I have to keep silence? If this was my dream, then what had I done to it to make it happen. If I continued living like this, I would never be able to accomplish anything in my life. I then told myself that I cannot forget my goals and that I have a purpose on this land, on this earth, that is why I came to America. It took a long time to overcome the fear of myself. I failed a lot of times. I keep trying and finally I get out of the box. I restart my life again. The way that international students should live. I started to meet new people and started making new friends. When I talk, it still is hard for others to understand. They laughed at me sometimes but afterwards, they will correct me. It has tremendously helped me in improving my English. I begin making more friends and hanging out with them a lot more. This was also a good way for me to discover the many new cultures that the U.S has to offer. I found help from others and it made my life easier. I also begin staying after class to get help from the teachers and friend for my study groups. I had also volunteered myself and got involved in community service. It took me a long time to overcome these obstacles, but through the things that I had lost, there were a lot of gains. The most value lesson I can say would be that I’ve opened myself up to the world and it has opened itself back to me. I realized that I couldn’t do this on my own. I cannot handle everything by myself. If excluding myself form everything, things would just have made my life harder. Another lesson that I have acquired is that, I can’t just give up or get scared because I failed. I learned how important it is for someone fall, stand back up and become stronger. That was how I had regained my confidence.

It takes time to able to adjust and live in a new environment, but I’ve learned for myself that you shouldn’t give up and let everything go so easily. Be strong and try not to box yourself up because of the challenges. Open up if you want to receive. That is my new definition for what it is like to be an international student.


Works Cited

Hsu, Chia-Fang (Sandy), and Huang, I-Ting (Joyce). “Are international students quiet in class?

The influence of teacher confirmation on classroom apprehension and willingness to talk

in class.” Journal of International Students, vol. 7, no. 1, 2017, p. 38+. Expanded

Academic ASAP,

78484&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA478824537&it=r. Accessed 22 Sept. 2017.

Gómez, Edwin, et al. “Journal of Park and Recreation Administration.” Page Header, Accessed 26 Sept. 2017.

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