Being an International Student at St. Lawrence
I was born and raised almost my whole life in South Korea. I say 'almost' because I attended a Korean elementary school, lived in Canada from 3rd to 7th grade, and then went back to Korea and attended an international school until coming to St. Lawrence. People often think that because I lived in Canada for four years and attended an international school that it wasn’t a big transition for me when I came to college in the U.S. Despite a lot of people’s assumptions, it was still hard and scary deciding to fly 14 hours away from home and all of my family and friends to study in a new country. However, looking back at my almost three full years of experience at St. Lawrence, I can definitely say that St. Lawrence and the community here have not only helped me overcome my challenges as an international student, but have also made my experience as an international student special and my own.
Being at a liberal arts college, the small class sizes and the small student body really helped me transition easily into college. As a first year, I was put in a small First-Year Program, comprised of 16 students and the fact that I was living with or near 15 of my other classmates allowed me to naturally spend a lot of time with them. By spending a lot of time with them, whether it was doing homework, eating together, watching a movie, or cooking, I learned more and more about them and connected with them very quickly! The fact that I was able to make friends and actually connect well with them helped me overcome one of my biggest concerns as an international student, which was not being able to make friends in a new culture that I could connect with. In addition, going to school on a small campus, it always comforts me to know that wherever I am, there are familiar faces that you recognize and are able to exchange hellos with. This allowed me to quickly become more comfortable with the campus and in the classrooms.
With that being said, it didn’t take long for me to recognize that I was one of the few Korean, international students here. However, what I also recognized with this was that friends and professors around me were constantly curious to learn about my country and my culture. Ever since then, I have come to not only enjoy telling and sharing about my culture with other people, but also have come to appreciate them for wanting to learn more, because people being curious about something unrelated to them tells me that they care about the culture, norms, and the country I grew up in. I have friends that ask me about K-POP, ask me to teach them some Korean words, ask me how far away I live from where the Winter Olympics was held, and what my favourite Korean meal is, and what Seoul is like! I love when people ask me about Korea, because this also encourages me to not be afraid of asking questions and learning more about other cultures.
Another aspect that continues to make my experience so valuable is the endless opportunities that I would have never expected myself to come across before coming to St. Lawrence. Coming to St. Lawrence as a first-year student, I hadn’t ever given a thought about studying abroad or off campus, because coming here was already kind of “studying abroad” for me. However, this became a different story when I found myself either surrounded by people who loved their abroad experience or surrounded by people who were planning on going abroad. Being exposed to all of these amazing abroad experiences, I wondered why I ever thought it was weird to go abroad as an international and decided that I was actually interested too! From having no idea what countries you could go abroad to as a St. Lawrence student, I became sure by my sophomore year that I wanted to do the Health Care Delivery summer program in Kenya after my sophomore year. I would have never seen myself going abroad while being abroad until getting to St. Lawrence. In addition to studying abroad in Kenya, being a General Chemistry Lab TA was something I had never expected myself to be doing before I got to St. Lawrence; I absolutely hated chemistry in high school, but ever since taking General Chemistry here, I realized that chemistry is actually so interesting and that I want to study biochemistry.
On top of all of these aspects of St. Lawrence that has made and continue to make my international student experience so special, I am always appreciative of the St. Lawrence community as an international student. I have friends since my first year who are willing to invite me to their houses over short breaks as they understand I can’t go back to Korea for short breaks, who invite me to join their families during Family Weekend as they know my parents can’t just fly to campus, and who are willing to take care of me like my family when I’m sick. All of these components of St. Lawrence have helped me not just with transitioning into a new culture as an international student, but also with making my undergraduate experience so valuable.