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The Daily Tar Heel

International Students Adjust to Campus Life

The bare-bones furnishings, lack of decor and overpowering sterility of his room give him away: Philipp Bode is a student in transition.

The move Bode chose to make upon his acceptance into UNC's Trans-Atlantic Masters Program involved more than just renting a U-Haul and finding somewhere to live.

Equipped with little more than an airplane ticket and a keen appreciation of globalism, Bode not only left the comforts of home but the security of his culture, language and customs.

A native of Munich, Germany, Bode moved into Craige Residence Hall two months ago. But he is still settling in to a new way of life.

Obstacles that Bode face range from the considerable amount of money required for travel, tuition and living expenses to the challenge of adapting to foreign customs and a foreign university.

Then there are the smaller hurdles he must overcome, such as immunization shots, a last-minute housing assignment and more homework than he is used to.

And because Bode's passport is in German, the 25-year-old graduate student has had to contend with Franklin Street bartenders who won't serve him alcoholic beverages. "To not get beer was worse than the immunization shots," he said with a beer-lover's grin.

Despite the barriers, Bode and other nonresident aliens from more than 90 countries continue to flock to UNC.

In fact, Bode is part of the largest foreign student enrollment in UNC's history - more than 1,100.

Though the record number represents a diversified group, foreign students face many adjustment problems.

Most international students interviewed say the most persistent challenge is getting to know American students.

Jaouad Bentaguena, a native of Lyon, France, said it is hard to get to know American students at UNC.

"(Americans) don't talk to you," Bentaguena said. "I have two Americans (living) across the hall, and they don't have time to share with international students. It's a lot easier to meet (other) international students because they want to meet people and they understand your situation."

"Teaching for Inclusion," a 1998 study conducted by the Center for Teaching and Learning, found that foreign students had difficulties integrating with American students.

According to the study, foreign students' most common adjustment to UNC classes concerns the level of in-class participation professors require. It comes as a surprise to foreign students that participation is a part of their grade.

Bode said this emphasis is significantly greater at UNC than at most German universities.

"It's good that students (in American classes) can talk and ask questions about whatever interests them," he said. "But sometimes they show off and give a long speech, and that's a little too much."

Many foreign students say they welcome questions about their international experiences and world views.

Sophomore Rishi Chopra, a French student of Indian descent from a small town near Versailles, said in his classes, professors and students want to know how he sees the world.

And while discussion groups tend to single him out, Chopra said he doesn't mind. "I get asked lots of questions in class, but I don't mind because I'm also learning about American culture and their perceptions," he said. "It's a great exchange."

Some international students say they feel alienated because many American students identify them through stereotypes and not as individuals.

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Chopra said some of his neighbors in Hinton James Residence Hall last year teased him with the nickname "Frenchy" and other stereotypes.

"From time to time, it gets on your nerves when they keep telling you `all French people are gay' and `the French don't shower,'" he said.

Other international students said UNC's living conditions significantly affect their experience.

Not having an American roommate is one of the most common complaints from international students. Bode and his current French roommate said they were disappointed the Department of University Housing did not assign them American roommates.

Two days a week, the roommates speak only German or French to improve their proficiency. "I hoped to have an American roommate to speak more English with, but at least I can improve my French," Bode said.

Housing officials said they are now making more of an effort to pair foreigners with American students.

Ariadna Orozco of Mexico said having an American roommate makes her "one of the lucky ones."

"I think it is better to have an American roommate because I improve my English, my pronunciation, and I learn about American attitude, customs and habits," she said.

Most international students say a positive experience is not contingent upon a roommate's nationality or the openness of Americans. Instead, students such as Alistair Cooper, a sophomore from Scotland, say the key is to make the effort to get involved with campus life and to get to know Americans.

"I take it upon myself to be up to my neck in several different UNC experiences," said Cooper. "I think (international students) need to constantly throw themselves in the deep end of the Carolina experience if they want to get the most out of a study abroad."

From living in an air-conditioned room to getting a good education, expectations of UNC have run high among international students. And although not every one is met, most international students say studying at UNC is a worthwhile adventure. Freshman Udayan Seksaria of Bombay, India, is no exception.

"Everything doesn't always gel like you hoped," Seksaria said. "But even though you get a little homesick, and it's a long way from home, you get to experience this whole other culture. And that's worth all the problems."

The Features Editor can be reached at features@unc.edu.

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