With international recognition of the Claremont Colleges on the rise every year, more students from around the world are vying for a spot at 5Cs, and Admissions Officers are noticing. Last year alone, the Claremont Colleges had a total of 728 enrolled international students, a figure that has been increasing steadily over the past ten years.
And while more international students travel great distances to attend the 5Cs each year, some say the transition to a new country and a new culture can be challenging.
“This is my first time coming to America, so it’s really a big change for me,” said Yushuang Sun SC ’15, an international student at Scripps College from Shanghai, China. “Sometimes it’s hard to adjust.” Sun explained why, referencing the Daily Show as an example.
“It was shocking how everyone could express their political views, which is really different from China… like, I can’t make a show about politics.”
Students at the Claremont Colleges come from 71 different countries, ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe. The three countries outside of the U.S. are most highly represented at the 5Cs are China, India, and South Korea.
For students who face difficulties adjusting to life at the 5Cs, International Place (I-Place) is an important resource center on campus to come to with questions.
“A lot of [5C international students] have never been away from home before, so they come over here, and they experience culture shock,” said Jenna Bustamante, I-Place Student Services Assistant. “They just don’t know where to go.”
The goal of I-Place, according to Bustamante, is “to connect people and to foster relationships between people from all over the world, as well as people within the community.” Besides being a place for students to come hang out, I-Place handles much of the paperwork that international students must complete. It also sponsors several trips each semester, such as the upcoming San Diego and Disneyland fall break trips, as well as weekly events, like I-Group on Tuesdays from 11:45-1 p.m.
“It is an intercultural discussion group; for instance, it will start with a broad topic, and students will get to talk,” Bustamente said. “It’s a way for students from this side of the world and that side of the world to realize that they experience similar things.”
Baptiste Petit PZ ’12, a student from Nantes, France, and Eduardo Ramos PI ’14, a student from Leon, Spain, are exchange students at Pitzer College.
“It’s shocking that many people are reluctant to learn anything,” Ramos said. “Like if I meet someone from another country, I would be interested to know what they think. Here, they laugh at you if you are a foreigner. They [think], ‘Look at you, you have an accent. Oh, I speak Spanish,’ and they speak really bad. So they are laughing at you, and they are not even looking at themselves.”
Bustamante said I-Place is also a place for international students to interact with non-international students.
“We don’t discriminate at all, we accept anyone to our events, trips, anything,” she said. “We have a database of international students or those that hold dual citizenship, so our events are targeted towards them, but also a lot of international students also meet students here, and they start bringing them to events.”
However, some international students said they face challenges to making friends with non-international students.
“It is really hard to get to know people,” Ramos said. “It is easy to talk to them, but when you ask for their cell phone number they are like, ‘What the hell?’ They may come and talk to you… but then they want to keep close to their crowd.”
“Americans are nice, but much of it is superficial,” Petit said.
Sun agreed that it is harder to make friends with non-international students.
“I’ve made a lot of friends, but it is really hard to make friends with Caucasians, and it is pretty easy to make friends with Asian Americans,” she said. “[That’s] not because we share the same skin color, but maybe because we share the same culture.”
Yasmine Acheampong SC ’14, President of the Scripps International Students (SIS) club, shared a different experience.
“I personally make friends based on interest, and being international is not as inclusionary as you may think it is,” she said. “I’m from Ghana, and a lot of the international students on campus are from Asian countries.”
Another student-run support group for international students is the International Student Mentoring Program (ISMP), which matches incoming international students with student mentors. ISMP collaborates with I-Place and organizes events that are open to non-international students.
“ISMP is a really good organization, but when I came in as a freshman, I didn’t want to really have anything to do with this organization,” said Wei Jun Mun PO ’12, a native of Singapore who is a head mentor of ISMP. “I felt like I didn’t want to identify with what seemed like such an exclusive group, right from the beginning.”
Mun said he changed his mind as he came to see the program as a good support community, which motivated him to “help nurture that community to have a more significant presence on campus.” ISMP, like I-Place, organizes events like weekly dinners, and last year it hosted an event that featured a series of teas from different countries, where students could share literature or songs that reminded them of home. These events are open to all students, and this year two domestic students signed up to be mentors.
Acheampong said she has found that her social circles have not been limited by participation in SIS.
“There is more to talk about than just not being American; we share an interest,” she said. “It hasn’t limited my friends, and I don’t think so for other students as well, because of classes and different clubs, you can expand your friend base.” SIS is similar to ISMP in that it provides support for international students at Scripps. The club is about a year and a half old, and is hoping to expand and inform the Scripps community of the international students present on campus. At SIS’s weekly meetings, attendees present their country’s culture, and next semester, Malott Commons Dining Hall will feature a dish from a country represented by a Scripps international student each Tuesday. SIS also has an informal mentor program, and is planning on collaborating with ISMP in the future.
Some international students said they struggle with an inability to visit their families more regularly.
“A student just stopped by to stay ‘hi,’ and mentioned he hadn’t been home in two years,” Bustamente said. “It’s a lot more difficult than for domestic students.”
She added that she believes this is an issue that colleges will have to address as they admit more and more international students.
According to Mun, students spend their seasonal breaks in various ways. At Pomona, many students stay on campus over summer break to do research, and others stay on campus over winter break due to the expenses involved in traveling home.
Acheampong said some students don’t have the option of staying on campus over winter break, particularly those at Scripps, which does not have a program that allows students to stay on campus over the winter break.
“That is what we are trying to fight for this year, because we can’t always go home over every break. It’s super expensive!” she said. Acheampong has family in the L.A. area, but she said many students don’t have that luxury. Some students find alternatives, such as staying with roommates.
Post-graduation, international students must decide whether to stay abroad or to return to their home country. Mun is planning on returning home, as he is abroad on a government scholarship.
“It really depends on the person,” Mun said. “I know a lot of people who go home, and I know a lot of people who work here. And the ones who want to work here stay because there are different, or more opportunities here, and the culture is different, so it’s definitely attractive working here.”
Still, many international students who do stay say they plan on eventually returning to their home countries.
“I definitely want to go back home,” Acheampong said. “I came here because the educational system is better, but back home, they need so much help, and with the education I’m getting here, it is definitely a reason to go back home and implement my studies.” Acheampong said she plans on getting a graduate degree here, and then returning home no more than five years after graduation.
“A lot of the international friends I talk to also want to go back and help with things back home, because they’ve had the international perspective,” she said.