By: Juliann Pham
February 28, 2018
Deciding on a college requires a lot of speculation. For any high school graduate, contemplating which college is the best fit, is the most financially available, and allows one to follow their dreams can be quite overwhelming. After all of the rationalization, the option of choosing a college in the US for students overseas is one not highly considered. Only 4% of all universities consist of international students. As this 4% is clearly a minority, I looked into how international female students in STEM have adapted to a life in the US.
I am a female student from Georgia Tech, and as an incoming freshman from a southern town called Macon, I had never met so many international students before. I was intrigued by their ambition and fearlessness to travel overseas in search of opportunity and adventure. As if picking a major in the STEM fields was not hard already, who knew so many students would in addition, sacrifice their safety net of familiarity?
Andrea Guerrero: Spanish, age 19, BME major
I met Andrea on the day of “Big-Little” reveal, a common sorority tradition to make new members feel a sense of belonging, where she took me under her wing as her “little.” She was ecstatic to meet me and talked a lot about “home.” The word “home” always had a special place in my heart because I am very family oriented. College for me, however, is an hour away from home, so it was hard fathoming Andrea’s courageousness to live in another country away from a family she holds so near and dear.
Andrea is Spanish from the city of Barcelona, and the thing she misses most is the “Catalan” culture including the language, food, and traditions. She mentions that the most challenging obstacle she faced was learning “the metric systems and vocabulary that is used by younger generations” and this was because “international students are usually taught very ‘academic’ English” and our American lingo was hard to pick up on. Despite all the hardships, she was “fascinated by the medical field” and wanted to follow her dream of studying biomedical engineering in the US. As a small town girl blown away by this, I asked her her coping mechanisms for being so far away from home, and she simply stated that she keeps herself heavily involved with on-campus philanthropy and leadership including Alternative Service Breaks and being a Wreck Camp counselor. She feels like her time in the US has been worthwhile because all in all, having a “close knit group of friends”, and devoting “lengthy FaceTime calls with her family back home,” keep her from becoming homesick.
Lisha Yang: Chinese, age 18, CE Major
I met Lisha for a group project in our English 2 course, for we were assigned to collaborate on a presentation together. Lisha has proven to be one of the most passionate and hardworking people I have ever met. She is a freshman Chemical Engineer major at GT from Nanjing, China with a love for the american “open-mindedness” and “all-embracing” attitude. She told me how hard work is the key to success and the grade given on an exam is not one that determines your intelligence, but one of “compromise” and “planning” for a new approach.
Her way of coping with being an international student is one closely related to Andrea’s with lots of video calls with friends and family back home. In addition, Lisha joined the Chinese Students and Scholars Association in attempts to spread Chinese culture around campus with the international friends she’s met at GT. It is her way of having a smaller-scale home away from home while promoting dumpling workshops and other food festivals. She feels like this organization is important to her because she misses the food her dad used to make her, and mentions how Panda Express does not suffice. Because she knows how much she misses her dad’s cooking, she wants to help other Chinese students feel more at home. Coming from a country where women tend to be treated unequally in the work force, Lisha has observed that gender equity is more prominent in America and even looks up to extraordinary female researchers in Chemistry. Lisha has effectively envisioned scientific developments in both countries and have made “effective comparisons” with the open environment GT has to offer.
Clarrise Gieowarsingh: British and Trinidadian, age 18, BME major
Clarisse was my first friend here at Georgia Tech. She has lived in multiple countries including the United Kingdom, Italy, and Trinidad & Tobago. We met as we were going through sorority rush together when she shared her interest in medical technology hence her major in biomedical engineering. Noticing her accent, I figured she was an international student, yet her ambition was anything but foreign. Right off the bat, Clarisse’s positivity and warmth, proved she had a strong connection with her “home,” yet never did she show any signs of sadness or doubt about embracing her new chapter of life in the US. Her passionate tone and courageous attitude proved that she belonged at Georgia Tech. All in all, she has definitely made my experience at the institute one with adventure and unexpected laughs.
To her, adapting to college life was “smooth” since she was used to moving to different countries in her past, and the real hassle she encountered was the process of requiring a visa. Despite this initial struggle, she quickly found a new “family of a different and unconventional type” at the Alpha Phi Sorority which helped her become acquainted with college life and allowed her to weave into a large support system. Clarisse mentioned to me how being an international student meant she had to deal with limited transferrable credits and background knowledge of the culture, but it was all worth it when she was attending the highest ranked BME program in the US. She was also attracted to the location being in the “heart of midtown,” for her adventures in Atlanta do not disappoint.
Anything is Possible
These three women from very different backgrounds and beliefs have wound up on a college campus in the middle of Georgia far away from what they call “home.” Notably, they have similar goals in life and one being getting a degree in a STEM field. Knowing these women personally, I have seem them encounter boundaries fearlessly and have never taken their unique opportunity to be an international student for granted. They have shown me that sometimes the biggest leap is the one that truly tests one’s capabilities, but that does not make it impossible and surely does not make it unfavorable.
ADVICE to Future International Female Students in STEM:
“I would say that you should never feel like your gender should determine the effort you should put into your studies, you should always give your all, regardless of the situation. I think it is important to realize that you shouldn’t feel discouraged by gender inequality, but rather prove that you deserve equality and it will become a reality in the years to come. Embrace your origins, never be embarrassed or ashamed of your country, religion or family values, they are your own and you have been given the opportunity to experience college life at an institution where diversity is highly valued, don’t take that for granted. Enjoy it! it goes by way way too fast!”
“Never doubt yourself just because you are a girl. You are way more capable than you think.”
“The key to success here at GT is having a network of strong and supportive friends, an iron mindset, a persistent attitude, and a tad of stubbornness.”