International students share stories of life in America at USC Aiken

September 17, 2018

Many local high schoolers choose to attend USC Aiken, but not all Pacers come from Aiken County.

The international students program at USC Aiken brings in students from over 40 different countries worldwide. These students, with their unique experiences, bring a fresh array of diversity and newness to the USC Aiken campus.

There are a lot of things that attract students worldwide to USC Aiken.

“I came here in the fall of 2016,” said Paige Davis, who came to Aiken from the Bahamas. “I chose Aiken just because I come from a small country where everyone on the island knows everyone. It takes 30 minutes to get to the other side of the island. I didn’t want to go to a huge school.”

Alice Neves came to Aiken from Portugal because she wanted to go to college on a tennis scholarship, and because an East Coast school would be closer to home.

“A small campus, I feel like it’s good, because the professors know you, you end up knowing almost everyone,“Neves said. “We talk a lot. It’s not like sitting in a class with 200 people where you can’t even talk to the professor.”

Neves said back home, schools don’t have sports teams like America does. Being a part of the athletic community at USC Aiken is one of her favorite parts of attending the university.

Asma Almutairi came to the United States as a high schooler from the capital city of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh. Coming from a major city to a small town was a bit of an adjustment.

“I love nature, so I enjoy being here, and I like Aiken because there’s not a lot of distractions so you can just focus on studying,” Almutairi said.

Not all of the transitions are easy. Culture shocks, distance from family and differences in language were also a part of the girls’ experience in coming to America.

“It doesn’t really go below 68 degrees where I come from,” Davis said. “So coming here in October, it was 63 degrees, I was bundled up, people were walking around in shorts, so that was a pretty interesting experience.”

Neves said she wanted to make American friends, but it was difficult to make friends in class, even when she reached out and spoke with them frequently.

“Somehow my only friends were international students ... it’s a hard question. I don’t know why.”

Almutairi said that she experienced some depression for a month after first moving to the United States as a teenager.

“It’s not the culture, I like everything here,” Almutairi said. “I like to speak a lot so I have a lot of friends, but I missed home. Everything was different: the food, the language, the culture.”

Perhaps the biggest shock was the difference in the school system. All three students said they were surprised at the casual relationship between students and teachers, and any disrespect toward teachers from students shocked them.

“Back home we respect teachers, you will never be disrespectful to teachers,” Alumtairi said. “I realized that some people that I went to high school with will curse and say bad stuff to the teachers and I was like, are you allowed to do that? You would be sent home if you said that in my old school. You would never come back to school too, maybe.”

“My first semester, I was taking a Spanish class and I didn’t know the rules or anything, and when I was sitting in the class waiting for the professor, when the professor came in I stood up and said ‘good morning’, and everybody was sitting down.” said Neves.

The students have sometimes had stereotypical questions directed toward them about their culture. Almutairi once had someone ask her if she rode camels.

“I calmly correct them, but you can’t get angry,” Almutairi said. “If you get angry, they will do it again.

“You can’t always get offended,” Neves said. “Sometimes people aren’t trying to be offensive, they’re just curious about your culture.”

The students said they grew up very conscious of America, and of the huge cultural impact it has on global culture. Attending USC Aiken has helped them experience some of that culture, and share their own.

They also have some advice for other international students coming into a university in a country far from home.

“Keep an open mind,” Davis said.

To learn more about the international students program at USC Aiken, visit usca.edu.

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