Texas Wesleyan student Nabiha Islam is from Bangladesh, and she has struggled with adjusting to life in America.
This is the first time Islam, a freshman computer science major, has been away from her family, she said.
“Everything is really new to me,” Islam said. “I am trying to keep a positive attitude and not complain.”
This semester she added an anonymous note to the international wall of challenge, a collection of sticky notes outside room 106 in the Oneal-Sells Administration Building, where Dean of Freshman Success Joe Brown’s College and Culture class meets.
“My biggest challenges are being taken away from my family, a new cultural diversity, and being away from my studies for a year prior to attending Wesleyan,” Islam said. “Sharing this with others on the wall of challenge made me feel better.”
Brown said he designed this exercise this semester to illustrate the challenges international students face when starting their freshmen semester.
About 120 international students have left notes on the wall this semester, detailing their biggest challenge to adjust to a new culture and climate, Brown said.
“I wanted to show the students that they all face the same struggles,” he said. “Some challenges are similar to domestic students, but many challenges are magnified and different. The wall showcases leadership, sacrifice, and bravery.”
Dr. Bruce Benz, chair of the Biology Department, said education is all about tackling your problems.
“Identifying a problem is the first step to any solutions,” said Benz, who has a lot of international students in his classes. “The wall of challenge helps the students visualize their problems. This is a great idea. It effectively helps problem solvers to come up with a solution.”
International freshmen start their first year of college learning how to adjust to a new country, culture, climate, cuisine, and language, Brown said.
Brown teaches five sections of the class and understands their needs and challenges, he said. The class combines freshmen success and the American culture system into one course.
It takes about a semester to adapt to the American education system, Brown said.
“It takes a lot of bravery to leave your comfort zone, your family, culture, and country and travel to another place to study,” Brown said.
Currently Wesleyan has about 600 international students, Brown said. Almost 400 are freshmen.
The total number of international students enrolled in American higher education in 2013-2014 was 886,050, according to iie.org.
The majority of international students at Wesleyan are from South Asia, Nepal, India, and China, Brown said.
Many international students live off campus and are faced with geographical and transportation struggles, Brown said.
The majority of his students live about 45 minutes away in Irving, which has the largest Nepalese population in Texas, according to an article published in March in The Dallas Morning News.
“They have a hard time getting rides to and from school,” Brown said. “But education is so important to them and their family, they compromise.
Due to the distance it takes to get to campus and the size of Wesleyan many international students face advising challenges, said Brown, who is also in charge of advising international freshmen.
“They want to come to school two days a week but there are not enough sections available to allow this in some cases,” Brown said. “And then the students who are on a two-day-a-week schedule miss out on the American college experience.”
They have no time to interact between classes or process the information, he said. But living off campus is less expensive than living in a dorm.
International students face financial problems, Brown said. Most come from Third World countries.
“They are unable to work off campus and cannot afford a dorm,” he said. “So they do what they have to do.”
Many international students stay in America all four years of college unable to return home to see their families due to finances, Brown said. Many make this sacrifice for a better education and a chance to make their family proud.
Brown explains the challenges to domestic students by using a point of view scenario. Put yourself in their shoes he said.
“Just imagine taking three years of Spanish in your high school and then starting your freshmen year in Madrid,” he said. “You will have to read, write, and speak in another language your very first college semester.”
Islam said that both Brown’s class and the freshman success center have helped her make the transition from her country to attending college in America.
“And all my professors are so helpful,” she said.
But she especially loves Brown’s class.
“It is so fun. Joe Brown is my favorite professor,” Islam said. “He is like the father of the freshmen. He takes care of us.”