Embarking on international studies brings range of emotions
Two first-year student-athletes, one from Canada and the other from Norway, have different experiences assimilating based on roots and language, but share common bonds too
The beginning of an international education comes with a mix of emotions, ranging from fear to excitement to wonder to anxiety. International first-year students at Saint Michael’s College say they occasionally grapple with such feelings in their first semesters, even while enjoying the many benefits of their experiences.
For men’s varsity lacrosse player Sebastian Simonson ‘25, life at Saint Michael’s was not much different from life in his hometown of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada; yet for varsity alpine skier Margrethe Frøland ‘25, it took a lot of adjusting to a life so different from that in her hometown of Rælingen, Norway. The two athletes agree that deciding to study internationally is a big change and may seem daunting, yet it can be very rewarding, both socially and academically.
Travel is integral to the higher educational experience of many students, whatever nation they call home. Some partake in semesters abroad or class trips to other nations, but for those who decide to complete their entire college education across the globe, an initial culture shock is a common challenge to work through, particularly if the international student’s native language is not English. Such is the case with many, though not all, of the approximately 60 international students from 21 countries at Saint Michael’s.
Simonson and Froland believe that every international education is unique, depending on how big a change that campus life represents from one’s previous native culture, as in their respective cases. The greatest struggle for Frøland has been the language barrier.
“It can be really overwhelming, talking in English. It took a lot of energy, I guess, but it’s getting easier and easier,” said Frøland. While this is the hardest aspect of international study for her, it is also the most important in her mind. “It’s really good to study in English and get really fluent,” Frøland said. “It’s good to experience that my home isn’t the only place in the world.”
Not all first-year challenges for international students feel so significant. Simonson says Canada is not very different from the United States, so he has not experienced any culture shock or major struggles. Simonson finds that the only struggles he dealt with during his transition to an education in the U.S. has to do with the way COVID-19 has influenced border crossing, and the switching of his money from Canadian to American dollars.
After hurdling the practical logistical difficulties of his transition, Simonson has been able to broaden his academic experiences as a biochemistry major at Saint Michael’s. Many of his classes have given him new learning opportunities. His biology lectures, for instance, have given him the chance to learn about topics he has not explored before. “Professor McCabe talks a lot about what the importance is of the College’s Natural Area and I find that kind of stuff really cool,” said Simonson.
Often the greatest opportunities for international students are more social or cultural than strictly academic. Frøland speaks highly of the friendly and tight-knit environment that Saint Michael’s has cultivated.
“I really enjoy being here,” she said. “Being on a campus is really new, but I really like having a small campus and meeting new people.” The presence of international students at Saint Michael’s allows American students to make friends from all across the globe and learn about new cultures and lifestyles. Frøland believes that Saint Michael’s cultivates an environment that encourages this kind of interaction amongst peers. “People are really approachable, you can talk to anyone,” she said.
Simonson said his social life took off through his lacrosse team. He agreed with Frøland’s favorite part of campus: the friendly environment. “Being on the lacrosse team, it’s really easy to make friends since you meet them right away. My roommate’s also on the team, so it was super easy to get to know him, and everyone’s super nice,” said Simonson.
No matter their origins, new students typically socialize with other students who share similarities. For example, while Simonson seemed to latch onto his lacrosse teammates, Frøland found herself socializing with a lot of other international students, including her roommate.
“My roommate is Swedish, it’s so nice that we can talk,” Frøland said. “She talks in Swedish and I talk in Norwegian and we talk back and forth because we understand each other’s languages.” Frøland said having other international friends and peers makes her more comfortable, and has made the transition easier for her. “It has really helped to have other international students, like people from Sweden, Norway, and other regions of Scandinavia,” said Frøland.
In short, an international education offers many great experiences, both for international students and domestic students studying at Saint Michael’s. International students enjoy the opportunity to experience a new culture and environment, study new topics, meet new people, and make lasting connections across the globe. With around 60 international students on campus, students studying internationally at Saint Mike’s have the chance to meet a broad range of new people, but they also may find solace in finding their place in the community of international students on campus.