The first two weeks at Boise State: International exchange students adjust to a new culture and education system

the national flags of south korea and the netherlands in front of the boise state b
Illustration by Dot Martin

As the spring semester commences, Boise State University is welcoming 22 new exchange students from various regions around the world, including Chile, The Netherlands, South Korea, Singapore and more. These students have embarked on a journey of studying abroad, some even traveled more than 24 hours to reach Boise.

Moving to a new country to study can be inflicted with many challenges when trying to adapt to a new culture. 

Sunghyun Han, a junior double majoring in English interpreting and translation and international studies, traveled to Boise from South Korea and shared that almost everything has been a challenge, “even the small stuff.”

“I am 21 years old, and I could not do the laundry by myself because I did not know which button to press or even how to regulate the shower,” Han said. “I had to ask for someone to help me, so that was really funny.” 

For exchange students, the semester began on Jan. 5 at the International Student Orientation organized by the International Student Services (ISS).

Timothy Randall, coordinator for the ISS, shared that having international students on campus contributes to bringing cultural diversity as well as intellectual diversity and different ideas to campus. 

As the coordinator, Randall is the first point of contact for international students once they arrive on campus, providing any support they might need in their transition.

The purpose of ISS is to provide the best possible experience for international students through a great number of events throughout the semester.

“We really want to make sure that we have fun social events so they can know each other, academic events where they can learn about OPT, CPT, and all the acronyms,” Randall said. “As well as work on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles to best set them up for success in the future.”  

One foreign exchange student from The Netherlands, Kay Bruintjes, is a senior majoring in history. 

Bruintjes has taken advantage of all the ISS events that have been arranged so far such as the orientation, a shopping trip and a downtown dinner.

Bruintjes specifically noted that the international student orientation is a great way to be introduced to the different departments on campus. The event provides important information about who to contact when facing different challenges or issues, as well as the ability to meet other international students and gain some immediate social relations in the new city.

Likewise, Han pointed out the international student orientation as the most memorable experience so far.

“I just felt very welcomed, supported and warm, so that was actually very memorable to me. It was really good to learn and hear about where I can actually ask for help,” Han said.

the national flags of south korea and the netherlands in front of the boise state b
[The national flags of South Korea and The Netherlands in front of the Boise State B.]
Illustration by Dot Martin

Academically, both Bruintjes and Han experienced some differences in comparison to what they are used to in their own cultures.

“The relationship between professors and students is really different. I think it is affected by the language a lot,” Han said. “Korean has a casual way and a formal way of speaking to people which makes people either closer or more distant. Here in America, the relationship between professors and students is very close which is interesting.”

Han explained that she experiences this very casual relationship in the U.S., whereas in South Korea it is more hierarchical.

Bruintjes is experiencing that the assignments at Boise State are easier, but that the work load is heavier.

“Academically, it is easier than I am used to because they do quizzes weekly. I am used to starting and at the end have one big exam,” Bruintjes said.  

The challenge for Bruintjes is not so much academic, but rather a test in time management and creating a schedule that works for him.

Another challenge international students face is making new friends.

Han shared that she has been fortunate enough to have American roommates that have been welcoming and supportive, giving her advice, taking her shopping and helping her adapt to the new environment. She shared that she also made a friend in one of her classes that she has been hanging out with.

Bruintjes shared that in his experience many American students on campus tend not to interact much with their classmates, making it difficult for exchange students to connect with others.

However, orientation day provided a valuable opportunity for all exchange students to meet and form connections. Buintjes emphasized the importance of these connections and noted that despite a challenging first week, his experience improved during the second week and that he is optimistic about his time at the university.

The ISS has a busy schedule ahead with a variety of events planned for the upcoming months.

Not only will the ISS be hosting events specifically for international students, but they will also be providing support and information for events happening on campus. 

According to Randall there are a lot of things planned for the time ahead including a Valentine’s Day event, St. Patrick’s Day, and a food, song and dance festival. 

There are plenty of opportunities for international students to get involved and hopefully have the time of their lives during this spring semester at Boise State.

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