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An Alien in New York

I am a part of the 997 international students here at FIT. We come from 69 different countries, and make up 12% of FIT’s student population. I was born and raised in Lima, Peru, and have received a Westernized education in an American school throughout my entire life, much like several of the other international students I have met so far. Although I’m confident enough to say that I dominate the formal English language, I wouldn’t say the same about being able to freely express myself in an everyday conversational manner.

Language can be something that brings people together, yet it drastically highlights differences at the same time. Back in Peru, I used to think that my knowledge of English would be enough for me to effortlessly adapt to this new environment, but I was wrong. The frustration I feel when I can’t speak the words that stick in my mouth takes me by surprise because some days I feel like I can’t express my thoughts in a nonchalant way (like I do with Spanish), while other times it doesn’t seem like a problem at all. The variation in my comfort with the English language varies widely and it makes me feel both unstable and insecure at times, which is why I felt compelled to find out how other international students felt regarding this matter.

How often do you feel like you can’t express your thoughts or ideas effectively? 

Camila de Madalengoitia, Peru, First semester FBM: Always. Back at home I thought I was a good English speaker. Now I know that no matter how many English papers I write, having long casual conversations with people isn’t the same.

Jenny Li, China, First semester, FD:  Just sometimes, but having studied in California helped me adapt to the language.

Andrea Navarro, Venezuela, second semester, AMC: Constantly, although it happens to me with Spanish too. My Public Speaking professor once told me that the only way she could tell that English isn’t my first language when I got nervous, (and I would say I get a little self-conscious talking in public regardless the language).

Marina Herbst, Argentina, second semester, AMC: I don’t feel like I can’t express my thoughts or ideas. Even though English is not my mother tongue, I can always find a way to express myself and get the message through. I also find FIT professors and classmates to be very accommodating.

Do you ever feel frustrated when you’re misunderstood?

CDM: I constantly feel like I express myself in the wrong way. I’m used to joking around and messing with people when I speak in Spanish, but now I feel like I can’t do it because it doesn’t feel natural in English.

JL: Not really, because I’m not that social so it’s never been a concern to me.

AN: Not really. There’s obviously a cultural difference gap, but I don’t feel like I can’t express myself in a way that can be understood since the culture and interests that youth share (mainly online) originates here in the United States. I don’t actually care about those topics, so it’s not a matter of me being misunderstood but as of me being uninterested.

MH: No. As I said in the question before, when I feel I don’t know or I’m not able to come up with the specific/technical word of what I’m trying to say, I use other words that will make the receiver understand my message.

Have you ever felt or been frowned upon due to a lack of well-formulated language?

CDM: Yes but it could’ve been my idea only.

JL: Yeah, a couple of times. I feel like people in New York get frustrated way more than people in California. The environment really affects people’s patience. Back there everyone used to be more open-minded.

AN:  No, I think most people at FIT are aware that New York is an international city and therefore have a sympathetic outlook towards people that at least make the effort to communicate correctly. Some compliment my English if I’m speaking without an accent, and others believe I shouldn’t try to “blend” it.

MH: No

Have you ever felt or been deprived from opportunities? (These could be social, economical, academic, amongst others)

CDM:  I know I am not the best English speaker but I do my best and get around with it.

JL: Probably no, because I’ve never tried. I’m not too confident of myself… I guess that’s because of my language.

AN: The fact that international students cannot get scholarships or financial aid from FIT is one of the biggest ones, yet I understand that FIT is a New York State college, and that it gives a priority to the people that are from New York. A friend from New Jersey pays the same tuition I do, so it doesn’t feel like a personal thing “against” international students.

MH: The only thing that I’ve felt deprived of is scholarships because there aren’t that many for international students. Apart from that, I feel like I have the same opportunities as any other student at FIT.

 

Overall I’ve come to understand that many international students struggle with the English language to a certain extent, but that some don’t believe it’s a barrier while others do. Therefore, I think it’s a matter of having a positive outlook on the situation one is living in rather than stressing over something that can’t be changed, such as cultural background. If self- acceptance is achieved, the degrading sensation of frustration won’t feel like so strong anymore. Acceptance is truly the only way to avoid feeling minimized by something as abstract as a language.

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