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An International Campus

Clockwise from upper left: Shin Seunghyun is pictured in South Korea during an NGO-sponsored 600-km walk; Yadi Chen during a summer vacation in San Francisco; Madeeha Khan addresses new students at the 2016 Convocation; and Miao Kuang-Ya in the Studio Theatre at the Performing Arts Center during a play rehearsal.

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 30, 2016) — They come to Albany from around 90 different countries, from Africa, Asia, Latin America. UAlbany’s international students — some 1,770 of them — make up about 10 percent of the overall student body.

The numbers have grown by almost 40 percent between 2009 and 2015. And while the students share some of the same challenges and experiences, each brings a unique perspective to the University, and each has something personal to take away.

Surprised by the Chill

Senior Yadi Chen said she didn’t expect the cold weather when she first arrived at UAlbany in 2013 from China.

While still a freshman, Chen began working in the Middle Earth peer assistance program, where she was the only international student. At first the language barrier was hard, she said, and she felt embarrassed when others couldn’t understand her. But after a year of hard work and improvement, she found she could share her opinions and ideas, and felt more like people were listening to her.

“I told myself I needed to be stronger and better and that I could do it," she said.

Chen says she enjoys the cozy academic atmosphere at UAlbany and the freedom of expression in America, which is so different from China.

Chen is a double major in Psychology and Mathematics and part of the Honors College and the Psychology Honors Program. She works part time in the Advisement Service Center, and is a writing tutor for international students.

And she’s an intern at the Capital District Psychiatry Center, and says the clinical experience is a real benefit since she wants to continue her studies for a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

One problem she said many international students share is reluctance to ask for help. “Go out and ask,” she advises other students, “but save your time and energy by making sure you go to an experienced person.”

Overcoming Shyness

For Miao Kuang-Ya, a Taiwan native, battling her shy personality made it harder to overcome the language barrier as an exchange student at UAlbany for the fall semester studying theater and sociology.

Kuang-Ya said it takes her time to translate from one language to the other, making it difficult to respond quickly in a conversation.

At the beginning of the semester, she said, she was too shy and nervous to talk much to others. She said in the small Theatre Department she felt at first that she didn’t fit in with more established groups of friends. Acting in the fall production of Water by the Spoonful, however, made her feel both more confident and more a part of the department.

When one of her classmates helped her with language, she realized it’s not that hard to reach out. “I set some goals, such as complimenting my classmates as a way to talk to people,” she said. “It’s important to have confidence and not to put too much pressure on ourselves.”

Kuang-Ya hopes to become a professional actress in the future in Taiwan and is considering applying for an MFA in acting.

Ask and Learn

Language was not an issue for Madeeha Khan, a junior majoring in computer science, who came to UAlbany from India as a freshman in 2014. American culture, however, was something new. Halloween and horror movies were a surprise, for instance.

“I ask my friends, because I’m open to asking people when I don’t understand, and then I learn,” said Khan.

History classes have been a challenge since her education background is from the East. “People assume you know the significance of certain events,” she said. “It’s something I struggle with and I have to read ahead or go over my readings to understand.”

Getting involved in school activities has been a big part of her learning experience. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be involved. I came here for the education, but I got the opportunity and thought why not?” she said.

Very involved. Khan is director of Intercultural Affairs of the Student Association, is a member of the Honors College, a Purple and Gold ambassador, and a resident assistant on Dutch Quad. She was recently named a student representative on the search committee for a permanent University president.

“Being involved helps you learn about yourself and build your skills, and if you don’t have any then you create them,” she said.

After graduating she wants to travel and work abroad before starting graduate school.

Finding Balance

South Korean student Shin Seunghyum said studying abroad is about more than just the course work. “If you want to come to America and experience something, I say don’t only focus on academics but also the cultural experience,” he said.

Seunghyun, a senior studying English Literature, said he’s at UAlbany to study, but also came for the diversity and to make friends. Some aspects of American culture, however, were surprising. “This was the first time becoming aware of homosexuality, which in my country we don’t expect or admit,” he said. “In South Korea, a homosexual person will be ostracized.”

Seunghyun said some international students struggle to balance academics and school experiences. “If you only focus on studying deeply, there’s fewer opportunities to make friends and less of a cultural experience, and the two should be taken advantage of,” he said.

Seunghyun, part of the English Honors Program, seems to have managed both. He expects to graduate in May 2017, and plans to go back to South Korea after that to work for his family businesses. But he’s also awaiting responses from graduate schools and, if accepted, would to return to America in the fall of 2017.

For more information on international students at UAlbany, visit the Center of International Education and Global Strategy.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.