Foreign students face pressures of their own

Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Ahmed Almohsen, right, paid for lunch at the University Center with Chartwell's assistant director Ronald Supit, left. Almohsen and his friend Firaas Almejmaj, center, are international students from Saudi Arabia. (Fred Lynch)

When Sajal Shrestha leaves college he'll be under more stress to find a job than his American classmates. Shrestha will graduate in May from Southeast Missouri State University with a business degree in accounting. He plans to continue studying for his master's degree in business at Southeast and finally become a certified public accountant.

The stress will come when he looks for work in the United States. The 22-year-old international student is from Nepal.

Finding an accounting job in Nepal wouldn't be a problem, he said. But he would have to go back to school to learn his native country's accounting system, and moving back to Nepal after graduation would be his last option.

"The money I've invested here in my education, I'll never be able to make that amount over there in my entire lifetime," Shrestha said.

Shrestha and other international students at Southeast Missouri State University face special pressures when they come to study in the United States, said George Dordoni, assistant director of international programs at Southeast.

Nepalese exchange student Sajal Shrestha, 22, works more than 30 hours a week to help offset the cost of his U.S. education. (Kit Doyle)

Language barriers, homesickness, financial struggles and more pressure to achieve academically are all stresses international students face while attending school in another country, Dordoni said.

"These students are a long way from home, and studying in a different country and in a different language, especially, can cause them frustration," he said.

Dordoni said international students can face more academic pressures than American students. "The stakes are a bit higher for them," he said. "If they flunk out, they have to leave the country."

Last month, an international student at the University of Missouri-Rolla was charged with making terrorist threats and assaulting a law enforcement officer. The student from India claimed to have a bomb and anthrax in the school's civil engineering building. His roommate told the student newspaper the young man was depressed and distraught over his grades. "I don't know of anyone who is on the edge like that here," Dordoni said of the international students at Southeast.

German student Erik Helmboldt is studying at Southeast for his master's degree in international business. Helmboldt took English in elementary school in Germany, but actually speaking and understanding the language was difficult when he first arrived in the United States.

"When you're trying to pick up everything you can in the lectures, it gets hard," Helmboldt said. "Reading the textbook is a big issue. It takes us much longer to read over a couple chapters in the textbook than American students."

Easier with the Internet

Helmboldt, 25, has been studying at Southeast since last fall. "I have friends who are international students, and a lot of them suffer from homesickness," he said. "But with the Internet it's easy to stay in touch with your loved ones back home."

Saudi Arabian student Ahmed Almohsen, 25, said he wouldn't be able to survive in America without technological bridges to his homeland. "I miss my family, my food, my music, but the Internet helps out a lot with that. The only thing I really can't get through the Internet is my food," he said.

Almohsen is studying for a business master's degree in accounting. After graduating from a Saudi college with a bachelor's degree, he got a job with an oil development company. Now his company is paying for him to get his master's degree in the United States.

The stresses Almohsen deals with are different from some of the other international students'.

"Unfortunately I knew that I might face some bad stereotypes about my country or my religion when I came here," Almohsen said. "My friends and family all warned me of that when I first told them I was coming here."

Almohsen's goals are to try and educate Americans about people from Saudi Arabia and Islam. "I'm here to try and tell Americans that we aren't bad people. We like Americans," he said.

When he first arrived in the United States, Almohsen said, he prayed at the airport in Miami, Fla., and caught people giving him bad looks.

"I wanted to respond to them, but I was praying," he said. "I wanted to say, 'Hi, let's talk about this.'"

Almohsen said he hasn't faced much discrimination and that most of the Americans he's met are open-minded about his religion and culture.

The main reason Shrestha wanted to come to America was because he was intrigued that black and white people live and work together.

"In my country, I've seen fighting that takes place in India between Hindu and Muslim people," he said. "I find it interesting the black and white people, who seem to be very different from one another, can get along, and they're making this country one of the best in the world."

After living in the country for a few years, Shrestha's opinion about America hasn't changed. But he has found balancing a job while attending school stressful.

He works 35 to 40 hours a week at a local accounting office while maintaining a course load of 12 credit hours at Southeast. "The financial stress is the biggest problem for me. I always have to work," Shrestha said. "Then I'm having to maintain good grades at school, so I'm always busy."

Southeast does offer counseling and special programs for international students. "The community is also very welcoming and supportive of the students from other countries," Dordoni said. "If they are having any frustrations, we are always available to help offer solutions to their problems."

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