Discussing what it means to be “international” at Colby

When getting to know one another, Colby students ask each other questions regarding the high schools they went to, the states they are from, and the extracurricular activities they are pursuing. But imagine one is new not only to the College, but also to the country. That student might not have gone to an American public or private school, live 20 minutes outside of Boston or even know the rules of American Football. The College becomes more diverse each year, and with international students making up eleven percent of the  Class of 2018, the challenges of being an international student are prevalent ones.

Any student who is not from the United States can introduce his- or herself as international. But what does it mean to be “international” at Colby? There is certainly more than one type of international student because of differences in the countries they are from and their past experiences. Ultimately, do international students at Colby integrate well, academically and socially?

Three international students agreed to be interviewed regarding their life at Colby.

The first individual, Haoyu Song ’17, hails from Shenyang, China.  He attended Northeast Yucai High School in Shenyang where he led a very strict everyday life. The second student is Ester Topolářová ’17 from the Czech Republic, who went to an international boarding school in Italy called United World College of the Adriatic. The last interviewee is Gillian Wei ’18, who is from Hong Kong and attended a private, American school in Hong Kong.

Echo: How different is your life at Colby compared to life at home?

Haoyu Song: I feel freer at Colby. In high school, there were a lot of rules—when to eat, what you should do/shouldn’t do, and what to wear. We were not allowed to grow our hair out so that it wouldn’t distract you from studying. We were not allowed to have boyfriends/girlfriends, but some people still dated. Overall, I like being at Colby. Although many of my friends hate how rural Colby is, I like being away from all the distractions and being able to focus on my studies.

Ester Topolářová: At Colby, I generally have much less time and I am much more involved. I am more stressed and I have less energy to hang out with people. I am very grateful for my classes, I think I am learning much more then I learned at high school, and I am glad I had this experience. The social scenes are very different. People are more interested in drinking and talking about topics related to American culture (which is totally normal) than I am used to. So many times I feel as if I’m not able to be part of the conversation. Additionally, my idea of having a nice time with my friends does not necessarily fit into the idea here.

Gillian Wei: Everything at Colby is definitely a lot more relaxed. This might simply be due to the fact that I’m only a freshman, but I have a much lighter workload and a lot more free time than I did in high school. More importantly though, I enjoy my classes at Colby a lot more than I did in high school. Being given more freedom to choose what kind of classes I want to take truly does make a huge difference. The social scene here is a lot more low-key than at home, which I think is due to many factors e.g. Waterville’s size and location, the younger drinking age back home, and the weather here in Maine.

E: Do you think you have integrated with the school well? Who do you hang out with?

HS: It’s a small school so it’s easy to know everyone’s faces. Although I have some American friends, my closest friends are Chinese because I feel the most comfortable with them.

ET: I feel very comfortable at Colby overall, and I think that I am integrated pretty well. However, the majority of my friends are international students with a few domestic students that I do not hang with out as much. I usually make connections through my organizing experiences and events. Other topics are the usual ones: classes, weather, Maine, etc. I also have more U.S. friends outside of Colby (in Maine) then I have inside of Colby.

GW: I can say for sure that I got really lucky with my rooming situation.  My roommate and I get along really well and all of the people in my hall are incredibly sweet. I think the fact that Colby is so small makes it easy for people to make friends and form close bonds.  I have friends at bigger universities, like University of California Berkeley and Boston University, who find it hard to find a close group of friends because their campuses are huge and the student populations are enormous.  Although the intimacy of Colby may be slightly stifling at times, it really does push me to form closer relationships and I’m really grateful for that.

E: What do you like or dislike the most about Colby?

HY: I like the classes the most. Something that’s different is that in high school, we just had to memorize, not understand it for the exam. Here we learn a lot about the professors and learn how to do scientific research, not just memorizing. They try to not just teach you knowledge, but also try to make you think. And I obviously appreciate the freedom here.

ET: I love being at Colby. Colby challenges me a lot in my ideas and approaches towards the world. I like the academics, I am very happy I met the people I met.

I dislike the general apathy culture and negative/passive outreach towards Waterville and Maine.

GW: To be completely honest, I was pretty homesick during my first month of college.  I missed my family, my friends, home-cooked food, and just my general way of life back home.  After a while though, I learned to focus more on appreciating my friends here and the opportunities that Colby has to offer.  I think academically, Colby is fantastic.  I have a kind of respect of my professors that I honestly didn’t have for most of my high school teachers.  I’m also grateful to have close friends here who I love spending time with.  The only thing I would change about Colby is its isolation and inaccessibility.  I can’t drive and I don’t have a car with me, which makes it close to impossible to get anywhere off campus.

The personal experiences portrayed here are unique and are not meant to be a representation of the entire international student body. These students speak only for themselves.

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