Students of FIE: An Introduction

Welcome to my series, ‘Students of FIE!’ Follow along as I get to know the students studying abroad in London through the Foundation of International Education. They will tell their stories from the decision-making process to the adjustment in a whole new city. They will unravel their challenges and greatest adventures in hopes of inspiring YOU to study abroad. Choosing to study abroad can be nerve-wracking, especially if you do not know someone who already has. If you are considering study abroad, I hope these stories will encourage you to. If you have already studied abroad or are right now, I hope you get the chance to share your story and motivate your friends and relatives to go on this life-changing experience.

To start off, I will share my inspiration for this blog series and my story. My name is Cathy Nguyen, and I am a Junior studying Communication at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. I am Asian American, Vietnamese, first-generation, and was an English as a Second Language (ESL) student.

 

CN Carriage
Driving a carriage for the queen at Buckingham Palace

 

I grew up in a predominantly white community, so I usually did not recognize the imbalance between majority and minority students. I learned to acculturate to the Western culture which made me slowly turn away from my family’s Asian culture. However, that is not the case with most of my college peers. My study abroad group has thirty students, and only two of us are students of color. Being one of the only Asians in the group was not something new.

 

CN Class Group
First day of class in London.

 

On the day that students found out whether they got admitted, waitlisted, or denied into their study abroad programs, I noticed that more white students applied. I learned through conversations with peers and professors that most students of color do not study abroad because of program fees and the underrepresentation in previous groups. If some students already feel excluded from our campus, why would they want to feel more uncomfortable and spend a semester with a group of students who they might not be able to relate to? Many of our minority students also come from families who have never travelled before, so they do not have people encouraging them to pursue international education. They face various obstacles for a chance to study abroad and sometimes do not have the needed-support. I created this project, so students can follow along and picture themselves in the shoes of those abroad. They would understand the benefits of studying abroad and find the courage to take healthy risks and try new things.

I knew I wanted to study abroad before I went to college. I even hoped I would be able to travel abroad twice. However, financing the trip and fitting a semester abroad in my tight schedule worried me. I did not have enough financial support, and I already struggled to save enough to pay off each semester of college. How would I afford to study abroad? I also switched my major back and forth five times before finally settling with Communication, so I was uncertain if I would have room in my schedule. I still went to study abroad fairs and spoke to students who have been abroad. My older friends would also reminisce on their adventures abroad. After hearing their experiences, there was no chance I would miss out on this opportunity. I applied, made a payment plan with a study abroad advisor, and told myself everything will work out. I applied for four scholarships and hoped for the best.

I am so glad I allowed myself to study abroad. The moment I hopped into my Uber cab at the airport, I knew the next four months would be filled with excitement, cultural adjustment, and growth. Even though I assumed London to have a similar culture to America, I experienced culture shock and more frustrations than I thought. For example, I sat in the passenger seat with the driver to my right and watched him drive on the left side of the road with anxiousness. Crossing the street and learning the unspoken rules of public transportation proved to be surprisingly challenging. Londoners also say chips instead of French fries, and I have a hard time understanding them with their accents. The little things can make a difference to adjusting in a new home, but it is important to be patient and have an open-mind.

During the first month, I learned about the history of colonization, immigration, and racism in various neighborhoods around London. I left every class in shock and amazement. My class would visit these areas, and a guide would walk us through eye-opening stories. I made realizations about the world and even about myself. I finally became aware that issues on immigration and racism were universal. I learned that I grew up struggling with post-colonial hybridity. I had difficulties embracing my Vietnamese culture while assimilating to the prominent Western culture. I became embarrassed of my Asian identity, but I realized that I am not the only one who had these difficulties. Families who moved to London from other parts of the world faced similar struggles. My time abroad allowed me to connect with other people of color through their personal stories.

 

CN Notting Hill
Learning about Afro-Caribbean migration in Notting Hill. Here, we are smelling vanilla and hearing about its origin in Réunion, an island off of Africa

I believe every student should study abroad whether it be for three weeks or a whole year. The adventure will allow you to become more aware of the world and make global connections. You will become more open-minded to new cultures and lifestyles. Studying abroad will most importantly give you the opportunity to grow and become more independent than you can imagine. The most important advice I can give is to try new things. Step out of your comfort zone and apply for study abroad. Once you are in your new city, try new foods and experiences, make new friends, and give everything a chance. Who knows, you might end up finding a passion you never knew about. For instance, I found my passion for trying new foods and learning about their cultures after taking a course on Food, Life, and Culture in Great Britain!

 

 

CN Turkish Food
Trying Turkish food for the first time after visiting a Turkish mosque with my class

 

Thank you for making it through my first blog post. I hope it encourages you to be brave and bold! This week, I challenge you to try something out of your comfort zone. Stay tuned to meet some amazing students and become inspired by their journeys. I would love to meet you and hear about your adventure abroad! Feel free to contact me at cnguyen001@csbsju.edu with abroad stories or any questions. Until next time, cheers!

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