A native of South Korea taking classes this semester at Speed School of Engineering, Kim had never experienced trick or treating or other Halloween traditions.
“There’re lots of creative costumes. And people prepared candy for children whom they don’t know,” said Kim, who went in costume to a Halloween party and helped pass out candy at a friend’s house. “It’s pretty impressive.”
While Halloween has been her most interesting experience, Kim has had to adjust to many things since she arrived in the United States just three months ago. She is among 738 nonimmigrant international students at UofL this semester. UofL Today talked to four of those students just after they arrived in August and then checked in with them last month to discuss their first semester.
Excited, but unsure of exactly what to expect before the semester started, they have settled in to the routine of attending class and of thinking and speaking in English.
The semester is going “very well,” German exchange student Matthias Hoelzl said in October. “I enjoy every minute in Louisville and the university.”
Kim; Stefan Mueller, also a German exchange student; and Ata Radfar, another Speed School student, agreed.
Like other international students, their reasons for coming to the United States include wanting the experience of studying in an English-speaking country, gaining firsthand knowledge of the United States, preparing themselves for careers and having the personal growth that comes from living in another country. And like other international students at UofL, they are undergraduate and graduate, here on exchanges for a semester or two or enrolled as regular full-time students. (Some international students at UofL also are continuing their stay for optional practical training in their fields or as part of the Intensive English Study program.)
Most international students are enrolled in regular studies and are not at UofL on exchange. That is Radfar’s case. A native of Iran, his visa requires him to stay in the United States for five years – he cannot even visit home or another country during that time.
Before he came here, Radfar said he already had an impression of what American life was like based on the Hollywood films he saw in Iran. He also had reports from friends who had been in the United States, but he still wasn’t fully prepared for reality.
“All the things are very huge compared to my country – all the highways, markets. For example, I talked with my mother and I told her that all the things here are 10 times bigger than we had before in Iran,” Radfar said a couple of weeks after he arrived in the United States on Aug. 4.
And, he said, things also do not look exactly like they do in the movies. He also has been surprised by Americans willingness to help him.
“When I was in my country and (just after I) arrived, I thought U.S. people are not kind and do not pay attention to international students. But after a while, gradually, I understand that U.S. people are very kind (more than my expectation) and try to help me in different issues.”
Hoelzl is at UofL just for the fall semester and is taking management courses at the College of Business. In Germany he attends the University of Munich.
So far, he said, he has found university life to be much what he expected before he arrived at UofL, but he has noticed some differences between the “American life” and that in his home country that he did not expect.
“I can see that the gap between rich and poor is tremendous here,” he said. “I also appreciate that you don’t have to be afraid of becoming a victim of a crime when you go out alone at night in Germany.”
Although Kim, Hoelzl, Mueller and Radfar come from different universities, they have similar observations about the differences between the education structure here and at their home universities.
Mostly, they are struck by the interaction among professors and students.
“Classes in the U.S. are more active and more based on individual participation. German teachers talk a lot and active discussions with students are rare,” Hoelzl said.
It is the same in Korea, Kim said. Education is one-way, from professor to student.
“When I studied in Korea, I usually only memorize and rarely think creatively,” she said.
Mueller, who majors in American studies at the University of Mainz, said his friends had told him there would be differences.
“But I am surprised that the differences are that significant. … What struck me the most is that the classes have a much stricter schedule, so the students are told what to do when. Back home, you have to be a lot more self-responsible in order to be successful. …”
“I think both of the approaches have their advantages, and it is very valuable to have experienced either way of studying,” Mueller said. “Overall, I am still as excited to be able to study at UofL as I was the first day I got here and I am very glad to have another semester coming up.”
(Editor’s Note: All totaled, there are 1,000 nonimmigrant students and scholars at UofL engaged in study, teaching and research. UofL celebrates International Education Week Nov. 14-18. Find out more about IEW and the International Center.