If you are from California, you are about 2,450 miles away from home. If you are from Alaska, the distance is 2,830 miles. Even if you are from Italy, you have to travel 4,500 miles to go home. Thanavon Pamaranon (SFS ’06), on the other hand, has to fly 8,800 miles to get to her home – Bangkok, Thailand.

In reality, the distances are not as wide as they seem when one reminds oneself of all the comforts brought about by globalization. E-mails can be sent to loved ones at home as often as desired, and a Web-cam is all that is necessary to see them. For those wanting to speak their native language, it is not hard to find people on campus who can. Security and passport controls, connecting flights and jetlag aside, 12-hour flights home provide time for ample time to read.

At the same time, mere distances are not enough to explain the variety of experiences one goes through in leaving his or her country and encountering a nation much unlike his or her own. It can be surprising, to say the least, if not disappointing at times. But it can also be rewarding.

Students have a variety reasons to choose to come to attend college in the U.S. Whatever the reason, however, international Georgetown freshman have been here for six months, and can now partake in what Americans like to call “reflection.”


If there is one thing many international students have in common, it is the expectation of finding something in the U.S. that their own countries lacked. Some wanted to discover the world, while other were attracted to the “international ambiance,”broad curriculum” or “small classes.” Others thought that they would have a wider range of opportunities if they earned an internationally-recognized degree. Unstable political and economic conditions of their countries also made some parents encourage their children to come to the U.S.

Thanavon Pamaranon won a scholarship from Thailand to study abroad, and she had to decide between going to the U.K. and coming to the U.S. She says she chose to come to the U.S. because she believes American colleges have a broader curriculum and more extracurricular opportunities. “I believe you get to study but you have to live at the same time. If you study in a European country, it’s more straightforward [in terms of academics],” she said.

Maryam Mohamed (SFS ’06), from Trinidad and Tobago, had to choose between the U.K. and the U.S. as well. Her parents were influential in her decision, she says, because they thought the U.K., being all the way across the Atlantic, was too far away. She notes that the educational system her home country is “very British” anyway. “Even though it was post Sept. 11, I think Americans are generally warmer than British are. I just thought I’d feel more comfortable,” she says. Mohamed was a Viewpoint columnist for THE HOYA last semester.

The reasons students gave for deciding to come abroad to study were as diverse and varied as the cultures from which they came.

Mehmet Memecan’s (SFS ’06) parents decided to bring their children to the U.S. in the summer of 1998. At the time, emecan said, politics and economics were going “downhill” in Turkey. “It was up to my parents to [decide to] come or not,” he said.

Ivan Gjosevski (MSB ’06) hoped that the American education would provide him a lot more opportunities than a Macedonian education. As a child, he says he always dreamed of “coming to the U.S. to see what [was] like.”

Tania Kaimowitz (SFS ’06), from Costa Rica, came for some of the same reasons as Gjosevski. She plans to study either international relations or environmental studies, and she believes having a degree from a world-recognized university like Georgetown will enhance her chances to find a good job.

Stefan Zingerle (MSB ’06), from Italy, and Carl Fliescher (MSB ’06), from Germany, had been to the U.S. several times before they applied to Georgetown. Zingerle had been to summer school at Yale University, and he was an exchange student in New Orleans for a year. He said that he learned a great deal about the educational system in the U.S. during his visits. “[There was] a lot of appeal in these schools,” he says. “Campus environment, international `ambience’ and so on, which was really fascinating. That’s why I decided to come over here.”

Fliescher was an exchange student in New Hampshire, where he liked the rural setting. He observes that the classes are smaller in the U.S. than in Germany. “[The education in the U.S.] is more personalized,” he says. “They have to get a better education here than in Germany.”

Sabine Knothe (MSB ’06) wanted to “discover the world,” because she has lived her whole life in Germany. She chose Georgetown because it has a “very good reputation, a good track team and a good location.”

Other students like Muriel Tschopp (SFS ’06) just wanted a change in location. She said that she had been “stuck in Switzerland for 18 years,” and wanted to come to the States. Washington D.C., she said, seemed like a good city in which to study.

Sheila Miller, Assistant Director of Programming Services in the Office of International Programs, also puts emphasis on Georgetown’s location. “There are a lot of opportunities for internships or to work for the government or NGOs [non-governmental organizations] or international and national organizations that are here in Washington,” she said.

Miller notes that American universities are better-funded than some universities abroad. “They don’t have as much corporate funding as our American universities do. We have very well-funded universities, which means we can offer a really rich university education especially through co-curricular activities and support services,” she explained.

A Different Nation, A Different Spirit

Eighteenth century German philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder believed that each nation has its own “spirit.” In other words, an indescribable trait that distinguishes it from other places in the world.

Pamaranon described her encounter with the American spirit as “challenging.” She explains how the U.S. is often stereotyped in developing countries. “In a developing country you know how you feel. America is one of those powerful, selfish countries,” she says.

Horiana Isac (SFS ’06) describes her encounter with this new spirit as “a good experience and a bad experience at the same time.” She finds the American way much different than what she was used to in Romania. “It’s more practical,” she says, “At the same time it’s too hectic. People don’t have time to sit down and talk to each other.” She also does not like the food here, and says she misses home-cooked food.

Miller says she has had many similar conversations with international students. In “culture shock” sessions, students always complain about food, she says. “They say it’s junky, they say that it’s very expensive for low quality, and that to eat well you either have to cook yourself or go to an expensive restaurant,” she explains.

Miller has also heard complaints about American students having packed schedules. According to her, international students think, “Students here can be so overscheduled that it’s hard to get to know them or spend quality time with them.”

Zingerle observed that Americans have “a different way of being social.” In Italy, he says, they put more emphasis on “enjoyments of life.”

“At these great schools [in America], everything seems so focused on success, career and individual,” he says. “At home – especially in Italian culture – enjoyments of life are a very, very important aspect. That’s the difference, just being together, having big meals together, just being a little more social, but in a different way,” he explains.

Kaimowitz also sees a difference between Americans and Costa Ricans. Like Isac and Zingerle, she thinks that the difference lies in the individualism of Americans. “In my culture, it’s more a sense of community where you’re always thinking about how what you do affects the other people or what the other people might think about you,” she said.

Gjosevski thinks that Americans have a different understanding of having fun. He gives the example of drinking. “If I go home and drink with my friends, I don’t drink much, it’s just being with people that you like. Here, it’s a bit different. It’s as if people drink to forget something, or just to escape from reality,” he said. Tschopp, , says she thinks the drinking age in America is too high compared with the age limit of 16 in her home country.

One of the things that surprised Memecan the most was the parties he has been to in the U.S. “People hooking up with each other seemed very unusual. Constant consumption of beer and drugs [were unusual as well].” he said. Memecan went to a high school in which the majority of the students were Jewish. He says he found taking Jewish holidays such as Chanukah and Rosh Hashanah off interesting, because he was used to taking Muslim holidays off when he was in Turkey.

When Memecan looks at the U.S. from a larger perspective, he says he finds that the U.S. has met most of his expectations: “I expected a lot more liberties way of living than I had experienced in Turkey,” he explained. “I expected things working just the way they should be – like government doing its business, town hall doing its business, the roads getting repaired and the school being repaired . I expected things to follow certain rules, and they did.”

Mohamed finds the D.C.-Virginia-Maryland area very cosmopolitan, and Georgetown very diverse. She says she feels lucky to have found people who are like her in groups such as the Muslim Student Association. “People here are so accepting because it’s such a diverse place, so I felt really, really comfortable,” she says.

Zingerle says he is also happy to be at Georgetown, and he is “fascinated by the international climate of the school.” And although he finds the academics here challenging, he says that is a positive thing.

Miller says Georgetown appreciates the importance of having a diverse student body, and how that would “enrich the classroom.” According to her, Georgetown has always tried to bring students from all over the world.

Fliescher and Knothe find Americans open, but Knothe had difficulty getting used to the greetings. “The first time when I was asked `How are you?’ I really wanted to respond to it before I realized that the American already left and did not really want to hear how I am!” she said. On the other hand, Julia Coym (COL ’06), who is also from Germany, misses Europe. “Because it’s Europe. It’s the little differences,” she said.

Future Plans

International students are not always fast to talk about their future plans, and often pause for a moment. Then they answer, and their answers follow a similar pattern: they say they might stay in the U.S. after graduation for a short while, but they want to settle down in Europe or their home countries in the long run. Many say they want to work in international corporations so they can travel a lot, but do not feel any special obligation to return to their native countries.

Isac wants to go to a graduate school in New York. Then she wants to live in the U.S., Germany, France and Romania. “If I go back [to Romania], it’s because I want to go back and not because I’d be obliged to do it,” she said. Another reason for her to go back would be to show her children “the beauty of Romania, mountains and my beautiful town and everything,” she says. However, she adds that she wants her kids to get their college education in the U.S.

Joyce Ibrahim (SFS ’06) agrees with Isac. She is Palestinian-Jordanian, but has lived all her life in an American community in Saudi Arabia. She wants to stay in the U.S. or work abroad in Europe but she still would want to have her children be American educated.

Miller notes that going to a graduate school in the U.S. is an attractive option for international students “because the students [often] find a graduate department that will pay for them to be a student while they teach.” Students also stay in the U.S. to take advantage of the training period they are allowed after graduation.

Many international students, however, say they want to raise their children in their home countries and leave the decision up to them when it comes time to choose where to go for college.

Pamaranon, however, is more certain that she will return permanently to Thailand once she graduates so she can contribute to her home country. “I feel I’m one of the very fortunate people that has this opportunity to come here. Even though I won’t be doing anything much because I’m one person, being a very small part, I could help them,” she said. “I will be traveling around a lot anyway and telling them what I see, so they could just learn about it,” she said.

Kaimowitz has similar views. She says she believes that if things are not going right in one’s country, one should try to change things rather than taking leave. “I think that if you stay here you can make a million dollars. I don’t see how that really contributes to society, [though], because it’s like doing business that merely benefits you,” she said. “But if you are working here and you become so Americanized and say, `No, Turkey is wrong in doing what they do,’ you are neglecting the fact that it’s your culture and it has [its own] history, which people here in the States don’t know about . If something is broken, you try to fix it. You don’t just go and buy another one.”

Gjosevski wants his children to be raised in Macedonia so they know about their roots, culture and background. Knothe also expresses a desire for her children to know “the country they belong to.” Coym agrees. “I want [my children] to share my culture. Like raising your kids with the same religion as you,” she explained.

Pamaranon wants to raise her children in Thailand, but she wants them to see other countries, too. She says her children should appreciate cultures as they are rather than criticizing them. “I want my kids to have a broader perspective so that they see what the world is, compare and choose what’s good for them. They should accept the fact that Thailand is Thailand, and the U.S. is the U.S.,” she said.

Zingerle would like his children to be educated in a traditional way in Europe. “I think I’d like my children to grow up with the values of the `old world,’ to be raised in a traditional humanist school system … And then they can spread out and come over here like I did, if they want,” he said.

If Fleischer’s children come to study in the United States, they may be helped by the fact that Fleischer said he wants to raise them with dual languages, German and English. He said this is so “they don’t have to suffer as much as I did with learning the language.”

Memecan, however, said he wants his children to go through the experience he has been through, and come out of it strong. He says he wants them to study abroad “so that they live through a challenge, a great challenge and such an educational opportunity for them to learn such other diversity, different people in different lands and different cultures.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.