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Minority Report: How is Penn State Viewed by International Students?

Penn State has the tenth biggest international student population in the country. But how well are these students adapting and adjusting to the Penn State way of life?

I conducted a survey, which was sent out to all undergraduate and graduate international students at University Park. More than 200* students responded, representing 50 different countries, and the results may surprise you.

Of the 200 students, only 25 percent visited Penn State’s campus before actually attending. So what did some international students expect Penn State to be like if they had never been on campus before their orientation?

Most thought the campus would be large and said that the campus had exceeded their expectations in respect to the aesthetics, though it should be noted that one student expected campus to be like New York City. Another student who wished to remain anonymous seemed pleased not with the aesthetics of campus, but of the female population at Penn State.

“Girls are good looking, thank God,” he said.

When asked to identify respondents’ biggest complaints about Penn State, State College, and their toughest adjustment issues, most of the replies were not unlike any complaints heard from an average American student: The weather sucks, there aren’t enough CATA buses running, and making new friends can be challenging. However, throw in a language barrier and a new country, and it creates an even bigger challenge.

The responses revealed that less than half of all international students have attended a football game, only 10 percent of international undergraduates are involved in Greek life, and only 38.8 percent are involved in THON. Furthermore, international students who primarily spend their time with other students from the same country are 20 percent less likely to participate in THON.

Though school spirit should not be entirely measured by THON, football, or Greek life, the low participation from international students in these activities does raise a few questions as to how well-integrated international students are into the Penn State community.

Better yet, maybe the problem is not that international students are not involved in the typical aspects of Penn State student life. Perhaps part of the problem is that American students are not taking advantage of the cultural diversity offered by international students. Realistically, the integration of American students with international students involves effort from both parties.

pie chart international friends

The results of the survey revealed that 39 percent of the international students who responded to the survey spend most of their time with other students from the same country. From the chart shown above, this may seem as though 39 percent of international students came to Penn State with the notion that they will spend their time with friends of the same nationality.

However, when asked who they intended on spending most of their time with at Penn State, only 14 percent of international students came to Penn State with the intention of spending the majority of their time with students of the same country of origin. As shown in the chart below, a greater percentage (24 percent) of students intended on befriending Americans but instead ended up spending most of their time with other people from the same country. The smallest slice of the pie chart reveals that very few international students who intended on spending most of their time with others from their country actually spend most of their time with Americans.

pie chart friend expectations

One international student studying biochemistry, who spends most of her time with Americans, explained that international students who end up spending time with other students from their own country may end up doing so due to insecurities, a fear not unlike the worries most college students have when they first arrive at Penn State: being accepted by their peers.

“I think that when international students first arrive in the States, they feel so many emotions and it’s difficult to try to handle them without family. Then when they get to school and are treated differently, they retreat and try to find a ‘home’. The only way we know how to do that is to find others from our home country,” she said.

The student further explained via e-mail that the international student orientation held prior to the beginning of the fall semester fosters a divide between international students and American students at Penn State.

“In my opinion, from the very beginning, the institution encourages [the divide]. I think diversity is important, yes,” she said. “But diversity goes beyond statistics. Diversity involves integration, communication, and connection.”

Penn State was recently ranked among the top 20 higher education institutions in the nation with respect to diversity and inclusion, according to an analysis run by research and analytics firm Halualani & Associates. The analysis praised Penn State as a leader in its diversity and inclusion initiatives, but made note that the university has room for improvement.

“The report shows that we’re a leader among higher education institutions in diversity and inclusion initiatives, but that doesn’t mean any of us are where we need to be,” said Terrell Jones, vice provost for Educational Equity. “Now we need to push beyond our goals with increased emphasis on assessing outcomes and impact. We’ve already turned the corner to start heading in that direction.”

*Penn State currently has 6,693 international students, meaning that the 200 respondents represent a mere 3 percent of the international students at Penn State, and is by no means meant to be scientifically representative.

About the Author

Yuka Narisako

Yuka legally immigrated to the United States via airplane in 1996 from the small island nation of Japan. Since then she has migrated throughout the country and now identifies herself as a senior majoring in Architectural Engineering. The Shandygaff is her Happy Place, though she was once kicked out of the establishment after breaking her shoe and screaming “I LOVE DAY DRINKING. I’M HAVING FUN.” Yuka is overly enthusiastic about life in general, but especially Ja Rule, Halloween, and the puffy black vest she purchased from the Gap. You can reach her at [email protected], or through Twitter @yukahontass.

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