Foreign Student Problems

Mehalet KesateBirhan, Staff Writer

Ask any foreigner and they will swear that they can spot a person from their country out of a sea of people. That’s exactly what happened to me when I arrived here, trying to find my way in the “sea” that is Millikin University. I may be Ethiopian in origin, but I had never truly understood what it is to be a foreigner until I transferred to Millikin and found myself far from friends and family.

Once I got here, everything changed and for some reason I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was under the impression that I was the only person from Africa on the whole campus; thankfully I soon learned that that wasn’t the case. During my first few days as a Circulation Assistant at Staley Library, I came across the name of an employee that was familiar; an Ethiopian name as it would seem. Pleasantly surprised I asked, in a rather too excited manner, about the person and was informed that she was from Eritrea. That was close enough for me and I immediately started to feel more comfortable in my surrounding; which was strange since I hadn’t even met the person.

It turned out that she was a senior and wasn’t the least bit as excited about my presence on campus then I was about hers; no hard feelings though.

As the days went by, I understood that being a foreign student wasn’t all bad; the difficulties went hand-in-hand with the perks. Yes, professors constantly butchered my name but bless their hearts, at least they try. On that note I would like to say kudos to Stacey at Staley Library for taking the time to learn the “Ethiopian” way of saying my full name (all nineteen letters and strange phonetics worth).

One of the most difficult aspects of being a foreign student is trying to forge somewhat of a social life. A task made especially difficult for me since I didn’t live on campus during my first few semesters. Looking at the many organizations and the people walking around campus in what could only be described as cliques, it’s easy to understand why Millikin is considered to be a tight-knit community. It seemed to me that almost everyone knew everyone; which I guess is inevitable for a rather small campus. From the outside looking in, the Millikin social scene looked like an impenetrable unit which can be discouraging.

Yet it only took a small amount of effort for me to see that most groups are quite inclusive. People are usually greeted with open arms and encouraged to join in any Millikin “family;” it was up to me how involved I wanted to be. And on that note I would like to thank Andrea at Staley Library for being one of the easiest people to work with and for helping me face the many hurdles I’ve faced so far.

Perhaps the best thing about being a foreign student at Millikin is that you get to appreciate everyone’s curiosity. Every time I tell someone where I am from, I get an array of responses like “Wow, really?” “No way!” and the usual, “You’re a long way from home, what brought you here?” The people I have met so far are genuinely curious about my culture. They ask about my accent (which, although subtle, is still noticeable) and how I learned to speak English so well. It’s always a pleasure to describe life outside of the U.S. and how there’s much more to Africa than most would think.

All in all, I’d say that Millikin treats its foreign students very well; for someone who has no commonality with most people here, I haven’t found it difficult to get to know people and exchange ideas.