Furman has recently seen a significant rise in international students due to a new partnership with the Davis United World Scholars Program, which is an organization that provides need-based scholarship funding for students from outside the U.S. to study at selected American universities. The number of international students at Furman has increased over 30% this year, and as Furman expands its international student community, it is important to reflect on the overall campus experience and inclusion of these students. With the help of MJ Larrazabal, Assistant Director of the Center for Inclusive Communities, The Paladin connected with several international students to discuss their Furman experience thus far.
Language barriers can make learning, living, and communicating with others a difficult and frustrating experience for international students. Many international students at Furman have been learning English for the greater part of their lives and have had plenty of opportunities to put it into practice. However, Lo Vodo ‘25, a student from Fiji, indicates that her environment can influence how she expresses her ideas. “For example,” she says, “if I am uncomfortable in class, I tend to mumble a lot when conveying my thoughts.” In her case, stressful situations affect the ease of communicating with professors and comprehending class material.
Felicia Barje '24 expressed a different language-related challenge to studying in the United States. Originally from Germany, Barje is confident speaking, writing and reading English. However, she has felt a culture shock while living in the South, specifically due to southern accents and “Southern politeness.”
Food is another area of life at that can affect international students differently than students from the U.S. Several international students enjoy the dining options Furman has to offer, while others miss their native food. Maya Bismarck ‘24, from Malawi, has found that Furman’s food doesn’t differ too much from her native diet, but still finds herself missing her staple food, Nsima. Conversely, Vodo has struggled with Furman meal options, relying mostly on sandwiches and salads to keep herself fueled. She particularly misses the seafood, vegetables and coconut-based dishes from Fiji.
Perhaps most meaningful, there are mixed thoughts among the international students about community inclusion at Furman. Some students feel like they have finally found their place at Furman. Vodo found that for the first couple of weeks on campus, she didn’t feel welcome and struggled meeting new people, but as time progressed, her social circle grew as more students welcomed her friendship. Ellis Edinkrah ‘25, from Ghana, has made genuine friends on campus, specifically within the international student community. He has bonded with his roommate and says, “we both have similar characters, values, and beliefs; thus, everything has been going smoothly with my roommate. In my case, the pairing was done well.” Edinkrah offers his appreciation to faculty and staff for being welcoming and supportive throughout his transition to Furman.
Other students indicate the campus community has not been as warm and welcoming as it should be. One international student, who wished to remain anonymous, feels that students and professors underestimate her academic ability and knowledge due to her accent, as her peers occasionally make comments about her heritage or accent. She would like the Furman community to understand that non-native accents are neither “cute” nor intentional, and she does not represent everyone from her country.
As a campus community, we only benefit from an international presence. Making international students feel welcome will take more than politeness. It will take a concerted effort to engage with students from abroad — through extended dialogue, social inclusion, and academic partnership — for us to realize the full good fortune we have to share this college experience with them.