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International Mustangs Among Us

The story we decided on was not something sprung  from clumsy, crude curiosity. My group had an intimate interest in this topic of international students at Cal Poly for an essential reason–we all studied abroad ourselves. From that experience, in each of us, we were able to know that a story did exist which was worth telling. We sought it out with personal passion, but our hunger wasn’t exactly met by a buffet or a polite “bon appetit.”

While we expected a wealth of sources to be ready and willing, we came to realize many of the international students studying abroad at Cal Poly this quarter were European. This homogeneity gave us some misgivings, however, we persisted–knowing that the stories was, nonetheless, there to be told. Official, administrative sources also presented potential setbacks. The international center has a very strict and busy schedule, and so the usual flag of “I’m a student journalist” didn’t receive the expected amount of attention we were hoping for. We hoped they would see the story too and welcome our notepads, but they were, understandably, busy helping make the story happen by orchestrating foreign exchange on campus. Some email exchanges did provide us some information we were hoping for though. Many international student sources also cancelled interviews. Although, we did know they would be at a weekly study abroad student session every Tuesday so that was an efficient contact resource.

An obvious theme in this story was the cultural differences noticed and felt by these international students living and studying in the US. We tried to section off areas for these differences, like socially, academically, politically, etc. Some of the students joked about President Donald Trump and how pathetic they think the US is for electing him, like so many Americans, themselves, do.

Urenna Evuleocha, a second year from Nigeria who came to Cal Poly for its architecture program, had a more personal experience to share.

“Before coming here, I didn’t really know anything about colonialism, slavery, and racism… they were just abstract terms in my mind,” Evuleocha said. “Now that I’ve come here, […] they are issues that I’m really passionate about.”

This personal anecdote gave us insight on where to take our story. The topic of politics was not exactly offering much newness or richness, so we dived into the rut of personal experiences with these international students. These were themes that we were easily able to generate from our own experiences abroad.

Group member Amanda Newell studied abroad in London last year. She shared how she grew from her time overseas.

Newell eagerly prepares to make a phone call with an ominous, golden clock tower in the background. London, United Kindom.
Newell eagerly prepares to make a phone call with an ominous, golden clock tower in the background. London, United Kindom.

“Studying abroad helped me learn to be comfortable with myself,” Newell said. “The sense of happiness I got from being independent and on my own is something I still carry with me today. Navigating a foreign city alone really forces you to grow and mature into a better version of yourself.”

I can relate with Newell’s experience and say it is very true. I studied abroad in Paris and started off not being able to walk 50 feet without pulling out my map. It was worrying at first, but I could have walked the streets with my eyes closed by the end. Adaptability is a skill worth millions in the modern, increasingly globalized world, and studying abroad is a masters course in it with a guaranteed degree. Such feelings were chronicled by fellow Mustang student journalist Kristine Xu in an article she wrote during her time abroad.

Group member Laura Hoover also continued on this theme from her own time in the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence, Italy. She also fostered a perspective of cultural appreciation along with an understanding of how cultures and their respective members overlap.

Hoover pranks a monkey with the "bunny-ears move" while on a trip to Northern Africa. Cedre Gouraud Forest, Morocco.
Hoover pranks a monkey with the “bunny-ears move” while on a trip to Northern Africa. Cedre Gouraud Forest, Morocco.

“This sounds counter intuitive, but I have never felt so perfectly comfortable being uncomfortable,” Hoover said. “Living in Italy forced me out of my comfort zone and into a completely different, yet vibrantly beautiful culture. The experience of studying abroad strengthened my independence and confidence but it also opened my eyes to the spectacular diversity that exists in this world. From Morocco to France, from Denmark to Spain, I encountered generosity, kindness, and genuine hospitality from a wide array of people. I learned that no matter how different a person and their culture may seem to you, that commonalities can always be drawn.”

It can be difficult to stomach some of the experiences one may feel while being abroad. There’s just too much to absorb at times. The world seems too big to be true, then suddenly morphs into a small sphere in the palm of your hands, all in an instant. This dramatic change directly parallels the tangible transitions students undergo during their travels. Many students keep blogs for this reason, as described in this article.

Group member Sophia Levin is one more who studied abroad in London. She commented on the cuisine between different countries and the small differences, the ones that leaving us unable to describe or recall. As Vincent says to Jules in Pulp Fiction about his time in Europe, “It’s the little differences…”

Levin stylishly stomping in the streets of Paris in the famed Montmarte district.
Levin stylishly stomping in the streets while on vacation in the famed Montmarte district. Paris, France.

“It felt weird getting used to a different country’s customs and culture,” Levin said. “It took time to learn the idiosyncrasies of the way people in another country live their lives. I found it interesting how cultures around food and drinking vary so much from country to country.”

I can provide an example of Levin’s viewpoint: I would often go into a cafe to grab an espresso before early morning class in Paris, and as I zombie-stretched for my caffeine, I would see an elderly Frenchman sipping a glass of wine at 8 a.m. in the morning. Furthermore, in Serbia, my host would offer me a shot of liquor strong enough to sprain my neck muscles before lunchtime. Yes, I took it and said cheers with him. Hospitality needs to be reciprocated with heart, you know? On an entirely different plain, in Morocco, all the student travelers were frustrated at not being able to buy shot glasses as souvenirs because–they didn’t sell any! Morocco is a Muslim country, and most Muslims obey their doctrine by abstaining from alcohol.

No, that is not the actor from "10 Things I Hate About You," that is me with a mane atop the Arc de Triomphe with the Eiffel Tower looming behind. Paris, France.
No, that is not the actor from “10 Things I Hate About You,” that is me with a mane atop the Arc de Triomphe with the Eiffel Tower looming behind. Paris, France.

The study abroad experience was something my group and I were really hoping to take to a new level for readers. Cal Poly students hear so much about going abroad from fellow students, and we wanted to provide perspective from the other side, from the inverse. We wanted to hear the voices of foreigners on campus and we felt like the right people to pursue this story.

Sources were a definite hurdle in this story. We did not let that dampen our reporting though, and my group members deserve a lot of credit for seeking out the foreigners they were able to find and speak with. The toughness and persistence they displayed was surely part of their study-abroad muscles. In nearly every unfortunate situation I’ve encountered since returning to the states, I am always able to say to myself in relief, “I’ve had worse,” as I laugh at myself and remember, and remember.