Colgate University: Home to Numerous Students From Across the Globe

The demographics of Hamilton are unsurprisingly, fairly bland. Of the 3,509 inhabitants in the village that is home to Colgate University, 64.52% of the population is comprised of 15-24 year olds. Of that overwhelming percentage, an even greater chunk is represented by our beloved Colgate students. If we continue this reductionism, we would likely end up at a small portion of Colgate students, but nonetheless an interesting batch: the international student community. Given the homogenous nature of Colgate’s student body, this interesting batch of different personalities is often overlooked when one is asked to give their first impressions of Colgate, yet at the same time crucially analyzed when Colgate decides to display its more diverse sides. This may parallel the very dichotomy that the international students themselves face; absorbing all there is to absorb of being “an American college student” while at the same time maintaining the cultural ties and outlooks that define their respective identities. The very first question for some may be how in the world did students of Ghana, Burma, China, Pakistan, South Korea, Honduras, Trinidad, Turkey and Paraguay – to name a few – even hear about Colgate? Despite the fairly low profile that Colgate attains in the international scope, how exactly does Colgate receive 700-800, and sometimes even more applications every year? Part of the reason is that Colgate advertises overseas. Greg Williams, senior assistant to the Dean of Admission, has recently returned from a massive tour of Asia in which he visited multiple countries. In actuality, the students themselves are often the most effective in advertising for Colgate overseas. Sophomore Hao Yin recently went back to China during winter break of last year and returned to his high school to offer insights into the Colgate experience in order to better acquaint his classmates who are interested in studying abroad. Director of International Students Kayoko Wakamatsu, in a recent discussion on this topic said, “There’s definitely a network of people out there ‘in-the-know.’ One person will hear about Colgate, and then other people in their school hear about Colgate. You’ll find that many of the international students here went to the same high school. There might be one student in India who came one year and then the next year there would be someone else from the same school. The web is also a great communications and advertising medium for us and other potentially interested students looking forward to not only coming to Colgate but who wants more information for studying abroad in general.” Prior to arriving on campus, almost all international students had some pre-formulated notions about Colgate University. When asked about how she portrayed American college life, Sophomore Nzinga Jobs of Trinidad corrected, “I didn’t portray American college life. I pictured it as busy, with lots of people and most of them not understanding you through your accent unless you spoke very slowly and clearly”. Others such as senior Sabrina Colie of Jamaica underestimated the intensity of a liberal arts system: “I didn’t think that the liberal arts system of education would have required so much class participation and attendance.” For the majority of the international students, the first few days of studying in a foreign country were very much of a learning process in itself. As sophomore Pian Shu of China explains, “All I knew was that it’s going to be a very different experience, and I will definitely learn a lot. I expected the beginning to be tough, but I didn’t really know how to prepare for it so I just decided to take everything as what it would be. Did my views change later? Well, it’s like I came with a blank paper and started to fill in with pictures. My views improved as I got to know the place better. There are certain things that I have heard what they were like before, but later struck me when I got to see and experience them.”When asked why Colgate was a more attractive choice than a native institution, mixedresponses were given. For Nzinga, her concentration was dealt with much more professionally at Colgate: “The attitude to learning is infinitely more challenging and serious with regard to time as well as assignments, not to mention grading, in the fields of study in which I am engaged, namely arts and media.”Pian Shu, on the other hand, praised the flexibility of a liberal arts education along with the experience of being abroad. When asked to list reasons for choosing Colgate over a native institution she offered: “The experience of being abroad, a global perspective, more freedom in choosing your courses, more independence, more opportunities and better facilities.”For others such as firstyear Konstantinos Vilaetis of Greece, options and choices were terms unassociated with a college education. He remarked, “I have heard that in the native universities some teachers are really bad. Also you don’t get to decide what you are going to major in. It depends only upon your grade in high school”.For others such as Sabrina Colie, Colgate’s liberal arts system and location were more than enough to win her over. In response to why she chose Colgate she said, “Our universities are based on the European system – lectures, no strict class attendance requirement, and one extraordinarily difficult comprehensive exam at the end of a year or two. The constant testing of the liberal arts system leaves me open and more flexible. It isn’t as elitist. It was in the United States and the state of New York. I just needed to be closer to one of the artistic capitals of the world.” Once they do arrive on campus, international students are hit with a plethora of challenges. Language, culture shock, education system, and food are just a sampling. When asked what is the most difficult aspect of the American system to adjust to for international students, Wakamatsu said, “For some it will be the educational system, what the relationship is between the professor and the student, and the relations with other students may be completely different from what they’re used to.”As with anyone, there are always likes and dislikes about a foreign environment. When asked what she disliked the most about Colgate, Jobs said, “The students who rush like hogs for the Colgate Cruiser in the wee hours of the morning. The smell of stale alcohol where the smell of vegetation should be. The terrible, terrible, terrible, and almost constant, cold weather.”Shu had other concerns about Colgate “Sometimes it seems disconnected with the reality. It feels like there’s a whole new world outside this place.”Although Hamilton may be far off from the towering skyscrapers, busy streets, and incandescent lights that inflame cities that are often seen in Hollywood movies, not all who come to Colgate are looking for such attractions. Wakamatsu says, “I have to say that there are some who come here and are surprised to find that New York is more than just the city itself. There are also others that come here and love the countryside – they think it’s gorgeous.” For those international students that did come and expect to be engulfed in American culture and society like Shu, Colgate is offering many opportunities to experience the “new world outside this place.” Wakamatsu says, “Some of the things that Colgate is trying to do is to make it possible for international students to take care of some basic things and go to places like social security administration, offices or shopping trips that are necessary, trips for pleasure, and trips that provide opportunities to go to several landmarks. CLSI is actually sponsoring a group of students to plan some trips, and the students get to decide where they want to go. It’s not just for international students but I would imagine many internationals would take advantage of the opportunity.” If opportunities were meant to be grasped, then internationals should have their hands full. Furthermore, everyday life is an experience in and of itself for many international students. One concern that has always plagued Colgate’s past and still lingering in the present is the level of mergence between students of different backgrounds and social classes. When asked whether or not they thought that Colgate international students interacted with other domestic students, the response was a generally positive outlook. Firstyear Kristal Holder of Trinidad and Tobago said, “I think some of our American counterparts value our presence here. They love our accents, are interested in finding out about where we come from and want to know more about our lives. There are also those who could not be bothered and have little to ask or comment on.” First year Mila Adamova from Bulgaria said, “Personally, I don’t notice any immense differences between me and my American friends. I don’t feel like they treat me in a special way only because I’m an international student. So far, I haven’t had any problems with being an international student. Only occasionally do I have to answer amusing questions like: ‘Is Bulgaria in South Amerca?’ or ‘does it snow in Bulgaria?’ But that’s not too bad.”Jobs provided further insight regarding the issue of segregation by saying that cliques form not only between international students and the rest of the student body, but amongst students of all backgrounds. To the question of existing segregation Jobs replied, “Of course there is, but no less among American peers of similar ethnicity. However, there is also segregation within nationalities by class, income, background et cetera. So it cuts both way.” Overall, segregation does not seem much of an issue at all for the international students. “I have a greater connection to people from a Caribbean background; that’s only natural. However, I don’t absolutely need them in order to enjoy the general Colgate life. I’ve assimilated quite fine. Not so much in the first 2 years, much more in these last 2,” said Colie. When director Wakamatsu was in turn asked this question, she replied, “I think that term ‘assimilation’ is something to think about a little bit. As with any group that is different than the majority population, I think that students find ways to acculturate rather than assimilate themselves in their surroundings and find communities that they’re comfortable in. We hope that students adapt to life here at Colgate, but I want them to feel that Colgate is adapting back and not feel that they have to change themselves. We want them to know that we’ll meet them halfway.”Future plans for Colgate include space for international students to input their own culture. According to Director Wakamatsu, one of the goals that’s part of the initiative to create more diversity is expanding the opportunities both inbound and outbound for international students and faculty alike. One of Colgate’s appeals is that it has an immensely diverse international portfolio for a school of such size. Colgate looks to keep that aspect thriving as we move forward through the years. In that regard, Colgate wants to make more opportunities for students and faculty to interact outside of Colgate as well. Regarding this subject, Dora Georgieva, co-president of Colgate International Community (IC) said, “It is most important to know that CIC is a cultural organization aiming to bring the entire world to the Colgate campus. This year we are organizing World Expo, which is the biggest cultural event on campus. We are also organizing events named ‘Sunday Abroad,’ at which we present a country and its traditions or a specific universal topic. These events comprise of exhibitions, food, music and many people who are interested to learn something more about the world that surrounds them. Of course, we are also planning more mundane events such as DMV trips (where the international students can get their Driver’s Permit), Walmart and trips to the mall. For the lazy Friday and Sunday evenings, we organize ‘movie nights’ as well with a cool movie and lots of snacks. We believe that CIC is an indispensable part of Colgate’s social life, because it bring to campus diversity – a concept we all need to get well acquainted with as citizens of a more and more global society”.For the future in the student’s lives, there are options. However, general consensus was that staying in America will be hard if that is where they would like to stay. Wakamatsu said, “The visas work in ways such that you have more of a chance of getting an extension if you do something that pertains to your concentration.” Other assorted problems arise regarding graduate schools, namely financial issues. For some international students, their crystal balls are already clear. Jobs knows exactly what she wants to do. “I want to be a filmmaker, sculptor, singer, and wife and mother. I’ll probably teach too. I hope to make Caribbean films, so I will hopefully get the opportunity to work in film for some years in New York City or anywhere that would have me.” Others are more uncertain about the years after Colgate, but they’re hopeful that regardless of what they pursue, they will leave Colgate prepared and ready. Perhaps the most important thing that international students will take away from Colgate is the confidence and imagination that has been nurtured through a liberal arts education. Each came with their own set of reasons and various goals. They believe that Colgate will aid them in accomplishing those dreams. When Shu was asked what her plans would be after graduating, she replied “Graduate school or work. Nothing spectacular that I can think of, except maybe spending a couple of years in Tibet to feel and think about life.” Nothing spectacular – yeah, right.