Exchange Students Bring Global Touch to MCCC

The East and the West have come together on the MCCC campus.

A total of five exchange students are attending MCCC this semester.

They are Sasa Gavric from The Netherlands, Johnny Li and Iris Tan from China, Sylvie Winkin of Belgium, and Hwi-Ram Jeong from South Korea.

They are participating in the non-profit program: Youth for Understanding here at MCCC.

Megan McCafferey-Bezeau, coordinator of MCCC’s Youth for Understanding program, said that since 2006, the college has hosted 30 students from 11 different countries.

“It brings diversity to the college and community,” she said.

The host families for these students have included three staff members and the College president, David Nixon.

Board of Trustee member Linda Lauer is currently hosting Sylvie and Hwi-Ram.

Placing a exchange student can be a challenging process.

“It’s hard to find host families in the winter,” McCaffrey-Bezeau said.

For the students who find a host home, learning to get acquainted with others, studying in a different language, and living in another home environment can be challenging situations in a culture different from their own.

Eighteen-year-old Sylvie has recently arrived from Belgium and is a first semester student.

Originally from Belgian’s southern section of French-speaking Wallonia, she is majoring in sociology at MCCC.

“I like the fact that most of you are very welcoming,” she said about American culture.

“There is a sentence that you say all the time: It’s nice to meet you. We don’t have an equivalent in French,” she said.

Iris, whose real name is Zhuoyan Tan, is a second semester student from China. She said that in the U.S., it’s easy to get involved, meet friends, and there is more freedom in the schools.

South Korean Hwi-Ram, who is a business major here, shares the same host home as Sylvie.

While interviewing Sylvie and Hwi-Ram at their home’s dining room table, Hwi-Ram observed how American culture tends to be more relaxed as opposed to South Korea’s fast-paced environment.

“I like the slow lifestyle,” he said. “I’m enjoying it now,” the third semester student added.

Sylvie also liked how Americans are open about going to a church.

“Lots of people go to the church and they are not embarrassed to say that they go….”

She said it is different in Belgium.

“It tends to be embarrassing. The young people think it’s boring and useless. It’s embarrassing to say that you believe in God,” she said.

Just as there are pros to a different culture, there are cons.

Sylvie commented on the numerous restaurants that line Monroe’s main roads.

“I don’t think it’s pretty,” she said.

“A lot of people eat out instead of eating at home,” she said of America’s eating habits.

In my family, we go out to eat only on special occasions, she said.

“It’s too big,” Hwi-Ram said regarding America.

Hwi also noted America’s over-reliance on the use of a car.

“We don’t need a car,” he said about South Korea. “But in here (Monroe), I have to drive all the way…So, it’s kind of tiresome,” he said.

“Everyone is more individual,” Iris said.

Iris explained that the Chinese often ‘take care’ of one another. For example, if someone doesn’t dress properly for the cold weather, someone will often advise them to dress warm.

“They don’t take care of you,” she said regarding Americans.

But she elaborated:

“It doesn’t mean they don’t like you,” she said.

American college life can be an adjustment in itself.

You have to adapt from high school, Sylvie said, adding that the studying is different than what she was used to.

“There are a lot of adults in the community college. In Belgium, at the university, there are only young people,” she said.

University students in Belgium primarily rely on public transportation and youth do not usually work throughout the year while in college, Sylvie said.

Even the language can also be a challenge for an exchange student.

“I don’t think the course itself is not that hard. It’s hard because it’s not our mother language. We have to do a lot of homework. It takes more time..” Hwi-Ram said.

Hwi noted that in Korean, the ‘th’ sound is non-existent, as well as the P, F and I sounds.

Similar to Korean, Sylvie said that the ‘th’ sound is not used. And she said it’s difficult when individuals use colloquialisms such as “kind of.”

Another part of the college transition is making friends.

“I have to try to find some people to get acquainted with,” Sylvie said.

Whatever the study abroad year brings, lessons can be learned.

Hwi-Ram said that he has learned to overcome loneliness.

When I first came here, I couldn’t understand what my friends said and had difficulty with the language, he said.

However, since he has a car, he is attending a Korean Church in Ann Arbor each weekend, which provides an opportunity to connect with Koreans there.

“I am more independent,” Iris said about living in the U.S.

Iris also said that she is learning to become more involved in group settings, and improving her English.

“It’s rewarding to see them change in the semester and learn about the different cultures,” McCaffery-Bezeau said.

When it is time to go back to their native lands, each of the students has dreams of where their future lies.

Hwi-Ram said he plans on transferring to Eastern Michigan University after he goes back to South Korea to fulfill his nation’s mandatory 22-month military conscription.

He also aspires to have his own business, possibly trading between America and South Korea.

Sylvia said she would like to become a translator for English and wants to be married and have children.

Iris, a business management major, wants to be established where she has a job and finishes school. She desires to move to California next year and attend a university there.

Want to know more about the exchange students’ countries? Find out at The Tattered Suitcase blog at Mcccagora.com