By Aina Izham
“Ever since I came here, I just felt a little out of place,” said Jessica Lau, an international student at UAlbany. “I felt unwelcomed and just didn’t have a great experience when I first started my classes last year in the fall. I wished I had a little more help to guide me around.”
Lau is one of the many international students who feel out of place at UAlbany upon arrival. In order to understand why, and what can be done to fix it, Professor Angie Chung, Associate Professor from the Department of Sociology, is conducting focus groups and surveys with Asian international students.
Chung’s focus groups have two goals: reveal how international students feel about their life at UAlbany and try to develop new programs which could improve their life at UAlbany.
WHICH NATIONALITIES ARE INVOLVED?
According to Dr. Michael Elliott, Director of the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), close to 85% of the international student population come from Asia.
With the national political climate always changing, and tensions mounting between the United States and China, Chung does not want students to suffer.
“It’s not a very friendly climate,” Chung said. “And not just those who are coming but also those who are [currently] here.”
The focus groups include international students from mainland China, Japan, India, Korea, and Taiwan.
Dr. Chung has put together a diverse research team consisting of students from many different departments. She says she is moving forward with the study and there will be campus-wide surveys focusing on not just about their experiences in the university, but also how students get accustomed to their new environment. Chung plans to send the surveys out by April 2020 and hopes to complete the data needed by the end of the Spring 2020 semester.
Chung says this new effort goes beyond just learning about the students, with the goal of creating solutions.
“It was created specifically because [ISSS] was interested in restructuring the program,” Chung said. “We have a concrete goal to hopefully lead to something substantive.”
Dr. Chung was clear that she is not trying to force the international students to assimilate, but to facilitate a two-way cultural conversation.
“We want to learn how to engage with international students in an equal way,” Dr. Chung said.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY SO FAR
Chung has learned that the motivations for coming to the United States vary, and those motivations are important to figuring out why the students may feel dissatisfied with their experience.
“People go to another country to study and learn everything from [different] cultures to languages,” said Dr. Chung.
In order to help the students get what they need out of this study-abroad experience, Chung is asking the students why they’re here.
“[For Koreans, they’re] using it to give them a kind of edge and being able to navigate the job market better in Korea and anywhere else around the world,” Chung said. “For Chinese students, they want cultural exposure and to really learn about people.”
GROWING THE STUDY
Chung is planning on participating in a comparative project across American and Canadian universities with a Korean Studies Center at York University in Toronto. Chung is also considering a transnational study between Korea and the U.S.
If you would like to know more or help in this study, do contact Dr. Angie Y. Chung at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re an international student from mainland China, India, Korea, Japan or Taiwan, do look out for the campus-wide survey which is releasing in this coming April 2020!