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International students struggle with dorm life, culture shock


Zee Almutairi spent half of his three years as an international student at Central Michigan University learning English through the English Language Institute.

Almutairi is from Saudi Arabia, one of the countries with the highest amount of international students at CMU.

Last spring, almost 150 international students attended CMU through the study abroad program.

“It was really hard to learn a second language,” Almutairi said. “I learned English more from talking to people, but the ELI did help me.”

He said one of the main reasons he chose CMU to study abroad was because of scholarships and course availability for his major in health administration.

“Getting my certificate form ELI and then being able to start my major was my favorite memory,” he said. “I finished in less than two years and not everyone can learn another language.”

Living in the dorms and constantly being surrounded by Americans when he first arrived helped quicken his progression in learning English.

However, not knowing the language when he first began his study at CMU was his “least favorite” part of transitioning from Saudi Arabia to Michigan.

“Living in the dorms was hard because I had no idea what was going on. English is important to know,” Almutairi said.

A majority of international students come from Asian countries, as well as the Middle East.

Jinanan Ni, or Owen for short, is an international student from China.

He is majoring in English literature and will be attending CMU for the entire 2016-2017 academic year. His university in China had an exchange program with CMU.

Ni lives in Herrig Hall, which is the international student dorm, and said he has experienced a few troubles.

“Language really is a big problem. Because you speak a little bit fast, so most of time I just know the topic you said,” Ni said. “For the detail, I have no idea. This is also because my poor English.”

Zahra Khalaf, an international student from Saudi Arabia, didn’t have the experience of living in the dorms. Instead she opted to move straight into apartments when she began studying abroad at CMU.

She also had a lot of experience with English and the American culture.

“When I came here I knew a lot of English already. The maximum level at the ELI is 4 and I was placed in a mixture of level 3 and 4 courses,” Khalaf said. “I also knew a lot about American culture by researching it, so I wasn’t that shocked by the cultural differences.”

She is currently taking classes for both business and pre-med.

While in Saudi Arabia, Khalaf took two years off from school after graduating from high school while trying to find ways to study in America. She said it took two years because “it wasn’t meant to be just yet.”

She began studying abroad at CMU in December 2014.

“I just wanted to study in the US,” she said. “I heard some friends talking about the CMU programs and so I came here.”

Khalaf was planning on transferring colleges once she got to CMU but ended up staying because she said she “loved it so much.” She plans to graduate at CMU.

Not every student was as prepared for culture differences as Khalaf was —

Almutairi said he was surprised by how different the culture of America is than Saudi Arabia.

“In my country, people are close, but people here aren’t as close with each other,” he said.

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