A glimpse into the challenges and rewards of international student life

Christina Donesky (left) poses with international students on Walnut
Street Bridge. Each fall, Donesky takes new international students to downtown Chattanooga. Friday, August 18, 2023
(Photo courtesy of source)
Christina Donesky (left) poses with international students on Walnut Street Bridge. Each fall, Donesky takes new international students to downtown Chattanooga. Friday, August 18, 2023 (Photo courtesy of source)

Written by: Emma Rodriguez

Next week is International Student Week in the United States.

“International Student Week is a time to celebrate our F-1 international students, especially the hard work and sacrifices they made to join our Southern community,” Christina Donesky, the International Student Services Coordinator at Southern Adventist University, shared in an interview with the Accent.

F-1 students live outside the U.S. but are full-time students in the country.

 According to Donesky, there are 164 F-1 students from 46 different countries studying at Southern. She said these students represent a wide range of cultures and backgrounds, and they enrich the Southern community in many ways. The International Student Services office is committed to providing a supportive and welcoming environment for all international students, Donesky said.

For international students, coming to a new country to study can be an exciting but also challenging experience. Jaziel Soto, freshman accounting major from Mexico, and Himari Tono, junior health science major from Japan, recently shared their experiences with the Accent. 

Soto said he chose Southern because of its quality of education and the value of a U.S. diploma. 

“[A U.S. diploma] is very valuable and may bring me more job opportunities, not only in my country but in other countries too,” Soto said.

Tono was also drawn to Southern’s close-knit community and its opportunities for spiritual growth. 

“I met multiple student missionaries who came from Southern. As I conversed with them, they shared their experience at Southern, and that’s how I got to know about the university,” Tono said. “They encouraged me to apply here, and, mind you, I also did my research about the place.”

Both Soto and Tono experienced culture shock in different ways. Soto struggled with American food and the multicultural environments in the U.S. 

“I find it very interesting since in my country we don’t have so many different cultures living together at the same time,” Soto said.

Tono found the fast-paced and independent culture in America to be surprising. 

“Most students in the States have their own car while students in Japan use public transportation like trains to get to classes,” Tono said. “Although being in college is a different experience on its own, the cultural difference can be difficult for international students. Fortunately, I’m adaptable to living in other countries, but missing family, food and my own language from home can be hard sometimes.”

Soto said he knew English when he came to Southern, but he still found it difficult to express himself at times. 

“Many times, I couldn’t really express myself the way I wanted to, or [people] didn’t understand me, generating some awkward moments. And I got frustrated about it,” Soto said. “However, most people are understanding and try to help you.” 

Tono has been struggling with the language barrier her whole life, but she is grateful for the friends who have supported her through it. 

“Living in the states and having only a few people that can speak Japanese can be lonely sometimes,” Tono said. “We all want somewhere to belong, and I’m sure most international students can agree with that.”

Despite the challenges, both Soto and Tono have enjoyed their time at Southern. Soto said he has been blessed with new friends, new challenges and new things to learn. Tono said she has found a family in the States and is grateful for the support she has received from her community.

Both Soto and Tono said they would definitely recommend Southern to other international students. They want to encourage students to be prepared for the challenges of living in a new culture but also assure them that it is a rewarding experience. 

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