From Albania to Zimbabwe: An International(?) Identity

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Hi!  I’m SeungLee Lee, a sophomore hailing from Seoul, South Korea, and I am thrilled to be writing for From Albania to Zimbabwe. I will try to share all aspects of the international experience at Brown and hopefully provide a well-rounded, honest picture of what an American college experience is really like. Stay tuned!

I hope you all had a good week and are enjoying the weekend. New England weather is so fickle; on one day it decides to be nice to us and is more gorgeous than ever, other days it is so cruel (aka snowing in the middle of October) that we begin to dread what will come ahead. But I’ll stop ranting about the weather; the bad part hasn’t even begun yet.

Being an international student is weird – we are literally called “aliens” by the federal government. Most students, unless they hold a green card or dual citizenship, are here on an F-1 student visa. That means we cannot work outside the campus, and even on campus we cannot work more than a certain amount of hours per week. It’s a hassle to enter and leave the country, update your documents, and to periodically obtain signatures from the Office of International Student Services. It’s difficult to vote unless your home country’s elections coincide with the times you are at home. And most importantly, many international students deal with the fear and anxiety that they don’t know where they will end up after graduation – obtaining a work visa in the U.S. is more difficult than ever.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining here. We all know what we brought ourselves into – going to college where we were born and raised would have eliminated all of these mostly logistical problems, and we made the deliberate choice to come to the States. Still, it is true that while dealing with these issues it is incredibly easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious. That is how I felt last year as I navigated through many things I have never experienced for the first time. Although both my parents went to college, they never lived in the States and had only a vague idea of what to expect from an American college. As a result of living over a third of my life in the States, I knew I would never be “Korean” Korean. But neither was I “American” American or Korean-American. As a result, I experienced emotions and crises that now, once I look back, I wish I had sought help for.

For a long period of time, when I felt I would never be able to assimilate to any of the cultures I was familiar with, I saw my status as an “alien” in the United States as a barrier to every action I took and every decision I made. I still do – it still takes up a good portion of my late night calls and Skype sessions with my parents. But it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. Perhaps it is because I simply have less time – as a matter of fact, I am pushing aside my CS homework to write this post because looking at it is literally hurting my brain. Perhaps I have come to accept it as it is – that I do come from an unusual background with unusual challenges, but have also enjoyed enormous privileges from it as well.

Now for some less abstract stuff that is probably a lot more relevant: I’m not sure if you all have heard of IMP, which stands for International Mentoring Program. It is a freshman orientation program for international students at Brown. I had a great experience from it, and my closest friend and roommate is actually one of the mentors. Stay tuned for next week as I go in more depth about the program and possibly interview some IMP students and mentors!

Seunglee

Do you have any questions, comments or concerns? Send me an email at seung_lee_lee@brown.edu and I will get back to you!

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