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Destination America: A Look into the Life of an International Student at a College in America

As HC staffers touched upon during our study abroad week, heading overseas is a horizon-broadening experience for college students. By being exposed to famous landmarks and educating themselves through foreign culture and language, study abroad students often return home with a feeling of self-gratification. But what about those students on our campuses who come here for their education?

At Hofstra University, there are over 70 countries represented in its student body including Australia, China, Israel and Italy. I spoke with Pooja Nair of India, Faith Rialem of Kenya and Xuesong Yu of China to get the deets on why they came to New York, what their greatest challenges have been and more. Read on to see what they had to say:

Deciding to Make the Trip

For all three young women, the logic behind coming to America for an education was quite similar: a great education, a peek into a shockingly different culture and financial assistance.

“It’s a better value education that helps you communicate better,” said Nair, a senior finance major at Hofstra whose hometown is Mumbai. She said that getting jobs back home is much easier with an American degree. “I chose Hofstra because it’s so close to New York—the financial hub of the country.”

Proximity to the city was also a deciding factor for 18-year-old Kapenguria, Kenya native Faith Rialem. She noted that money played a role, as Hofstra University offered her a scholarship she couldn’t refuse. “I also really wanted to come see everything, all the different cultures.”

The same goes for graduate student Xuesong Yu. “I wanted to know more about American culture and society and get working experience in accounting here to further my career.” Hofstra University also provided Yu with a scholarship to a school “in a great location with great professors.”

Challenges and Differences

As to be expected, making the big move to the states was no simple task for these young women. For all three, their greatest obstacle has been the language barrier.

“Communicating with people has been difficult,” Nair said. “My friends and professors always try to help me.”

Yu said she listens to American music on the radio and reads the Wall Street Journal and TIME to better acquaint herself with the language.

Rialem said another difficulty has been home-sickness. “It’s hard when you leave home for a long time and begin to miss the people you’re used to,” she said. Adjusting to a drastic change in climate (imagine leaving the warm sunshine of Kenya for the chills and rain squalls of Long Island!) and food are challenges she is continuing to face.

As far as differences go, Yu said that the culture and education system is entirely different. “In the U.S., there is much more attention placed on application of knowledge. China is much more conservative.”

For Nair, she always heard that the studies were difficult and that there were lots of difficult ethnicities. “This is unheard of in India,” she said.

Social Life/Activities

As in the case of any college student, one’s social life depends on personality or certain circumstances like living arrangements. For Yu, making friends with her classmates is one way she has attempted to battle the language barrier. It has remained a challenge for her though, she said. “Living on-campus makes it difficult for me to attend parties and join clubs.” She currently only belongs to an accounting group, Beta Alpha Sigma, which she loves. “It’s really great for networking!” Yu takes advantage of technology like the Internet and social networking sites like Facebook. She uses emails to keep-in-touch with her parents back home.

Nair has had similar difficulties, admitting that she isn’t too interactive with American students. She hopes to improve on this, saying that she is “definitely looking forward to joining a finance club soon.”

As a freshman, Rialem has already immersed herself in a number of Hofstra organizations including an on-campus job and a Pre-Med association. She also lives in Hofstra housing with three American students who she gets along with. “They’re all very nice!” she said.


An obvious trend academically is that Nair, Rialem and Yu are all studying within the business and science departments. These three are well-aware that these are highly sought after skills in the American and international workforce.

“I really enjoy my studies so far,” Faith said.

All three young ladies said they loved having smaller class sizes, as this made it easier to form relationships with professors.

Shop ‘Til They Drop

Another uniting factor about these women is that they love them some retail therapy! “Shopping isn’t just an American thing—it’s good for everyone!” said Nair. She said she likes to shop at the local mall, Roosevelt Field, and will pick up something if she likes it.

Rialem agreed entirely, admitting that she could easily spend her entire on-campus job paycheck at the mall. “I love Forever 21 and Charlotte Russe!” she said. Sound familiar?

Post-Graduation Plans

Here, their answers varied. “After graduation, I’m going home because I love the life of China,” Yu said. “More and more students come to the U.S. now and I would rather work back home.”

Rialem hopes to attend medical school after she completes her undergraduate degree, but is uncertain whether she will end up staying in the States or heading back home.

Nair was also unsure of where her future lies. What is clear, however, is that speaking with these young women was an eye-opening experience.

Have you ever struck up conversation with an international student at your school? Whether they are at the dining hall or sitting next to you in bio lab, if you happen to meet an international student, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and get to know them—it’s more than likely that they will have their own unique story to share.


Xuesong Yu, Hofstra University

Faith Rialem, Hofstra University

Pooja Nair, Hofstra University

Gennifer is the Branded Content Specialist for Her Campus Media. In her role, she manages all sponsored content across platforms including editorial, social, and newsletters. As one of HC's first-ever writers, she previously wrote about career, college life, and more as a national writer during her time at Hofstra University. She also helped launch the How She Got There section, where she interviewed inspiring women in various industries. She lives in New York City.
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