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International students at UNC bring a sense of home to campus

UNC junior Delia Freund, an international student from Lima, Peru, poses for a portrait in her dorm room on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.

A line runs down the middle of Sophia Katz’s room in Morrison Residence Hall — her side has a varied color palette, with white bedding, a red futon and art from her summer printmaking class, while her roommate’s side is decked out in Carolina Blue.

Katz, a sophomore, was born and raised by American parents in Paris. She said she is careful not to embody the stereotype of the "rude" French, repeating that the cultural differences are merely differences, not better or worse. Still, she said she often feels like a bit of an outsider at UNC.

“I feel more French, without a doubt," Katz said.  "Just because France is where I fit in the best, that’s where I grew up, that's the culture I'm accustomed to, that’s how I live. At the same time, I'm very aware of my American-ness.” 

This semester, Katz is among the 2,497 international students, including 1,094 undergraduates, who attend UNC.

Nana Oduro-Nyaning’s room in Koury Residence Hall on Sunday had a few reminders of the places he considers home — photos of track meets, a stuffed elephant from a fundraiser and a Bible he brought from his native England. An NFL broadcast played on Oduro-Nyaning's TV since his roommate had suggested he explore American football. 

Oduro-Nyaning has lived most of his life in London and has regularly visited Ghana, where much of his extended family still lives.

“It’s really cool to be able to say that, ‘Yeah, I’m British,’ and that’s accepted in the United Kingdom, at the same time I can say, 'Yeah I am Ghanaian,' and that’s accepted back home, so there are two bits to my identity,” Oduro-Nyaning said. 

He went to Lancing College, a boarding school on England’s south coast. Many of his friends ended up going to Britain’s elite schools like Oxford and Cambridge, but he knew he wanted something different. 

“[Lancing College] was very diverse," Oduro-Nyaning said. "It was pretty international, so I had friends from Hong Kong, Russia, China, Africa and there were London-based people, too.”

Delia Freund, a junior who grew up in Lima, Peru, always keeps a bowl of Peruvian candies in her room in Carmichael Residence Hall to treat any visitors. As this year’s governor of the Carmichael-Parker community, one of Freund’s main goals is to improve UNC’s cultural and international events.

“A lot of the ideas for international students are reminding them of home," Freund said. "Which, I get the intentions and I feel like that’s very nice, but at the same time, I feel like they’re trying to remind them about the place, when I am a firm believer that home is not necessarily a location, but the people there."

Sophomore Maxwell Simbuwa was born and raised in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, and was often homesick last year. While he's found it difficult to make authentic Zambian food in Chapel Hill, Simbuwa has done a few things to remind him of home, including joining the student group One Africa and listening to his playlists of Zambian music.

Simbuwa, a Robertson scholar, spent his last two years of high school at the African Leadership Academy, a boarding school near Johannesburg, South Africa.

“It's a complex issue,” Simbuwa said. "Yes, I'm glad I'm getting this great educational opportunity, but the reality of that is that I'm missing out on home, on spending time with my family. But the reason that I'm doing this is because of the global system that we live in where to be successful you need to have a good education."

While Katz spent much of her childhood summers in North Carolina, she said she misses the culture of France. She said Parisians wouldn’t bat an eye at her typical winter outfits of turtlenecks, long coats, boots and jeans, but they get looks in Chapel Hill. 

“It's hard for me to distinguish between what's French and what's just me,” Katz said. 


@dthlifestyle |

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