Sophia Kuipa, ’20, an international student from Zimbabwe, was deducted two points on two separate assignments before she realized her microscopic mistake.
Kuipa, accustomed to the practices of the British schooling system, used commas where Americans use decimal points.
She said while this issue seems insignificant and she can laugh about it now, there are many adjustments international students must make at Lehigh.
Kuipa and three other student panelists, Naijia “Coco” Chen, ’20, from China, Abdul Moiz Gul, ’20, from Pakistan, and Begench Orazgeldiyev, ’17, a graduate student from Turkmenistan, shared their stories about adjusting to Lehigh at a conversation called Student Voices: International Students’ Experiences on Feb. 22.
Samba Dieng, the director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, selected the students for the panel.
“I wanted to pick a diverse group of students — males and females from different countries and in different colleges,” Dieng said.
Dieng organized the event with Greg Reihman, the director of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, and Bruce Whitehouse, an associate professor of anthropology and co-director of global studies. Whitehouse facilitated the discussion.
Dieng said the goal of the event was to start a conversation between students and faculty about helping international students adjust to American culture and life at Lehigh. The students discussed the differences between Lehigh and schools they had attended in their home countries.
The panelists agreed they had difficulty using MLA formatting and contributing to class discussions. Many said they worried they would sound stupid if they participated or asked questions in class because of the language barrier.
Chen said she initially struggled to keep up in discussion-based classes because often the topic of the conversation would change by the time she had figured out how to articulate her ideas in English.
The panel agreed they sometimes feel ostracized by other students.
“Finding a group (for classwork) is the most terrifying experience,” Orazgeldiyev said.
The panelists said they prefer when professors assign groups for group projects. Chen said this way, she has a chance to get to know students and make a connection with them because they are required to interact.
“International students experience this social exclusion,” Whitehouse said. “I hadn’t heard anything about that before.”
Whitehouse said the panelists had been successful at overcoming and adapting to this challenge.
Aside from social exclusion, some of the students said they felt they were at a disadvantage for some opportunities.
Moiz Gul said various companies at the career fair were impressed with his resume but lost interest when he mentioned he is from Pakistan. He said he thinks this may have been because of the legal issues and challenges associated with obtaining a worker visa in addition to his student visa.
Dieng said he organized the event to give students their own voices and allow them to share their experiences directly with faculty, as opposed to having the Office of International Students and Scholars act as a liaison between the two groups.
With about 30 students, faculty and staff in attendance, Dieng said he was thrilled with the turnout at the event.
“I thought it was phenomenal,” Samba said. “I thought all members of the panel were absolutely amazing…I am very proud of these students.”