Features — 14 April 2017

By Gabriel Crosetti @gabecrosetti

They account for less than two percent of Las Positas College students, but if you were to walk around the campus you would think that fraction was much higher.

Whether you’re walking into the cafeteria for a quick snack, going to the library to study or stopping by the tutorial center for some help, you’ll most likely be unknowingly in the presence of many international students.

From sun rise to sunset, the time they spend studying is miniscule compared to the amount of sacrifice they make to be here.

They are not here because their parents forced them to or to pass time. They are here because their future depends on it.

These are the international students of Las Positas, who have left their old life behind at home, to pursue something much bigger and meaningful than a degree.

Out of 9,000 students at LPC, 144 of them are full-time international students varying from 41 different countries across the world.

Many of these international students are not studying in the United States solely for the purpose of getting a more respected degree, they are studying in the United States to have a better life than their parents and  family members who came before them.

The sacrifice is mutual in most cases. The student’s family also has to make sacrifices just as big, or bigger, than the student.

Not only do they have to cope with having their loved ones leave to go to another country thousands of miles away, they also have to make large financial sacrifices by sending their kids to a school in the United States and paying a lot more than a local American resident.

“The decision to study abroad does take a lot of time,” Sean Day, Admissions Specialist for international students at LPC said. “ It’s really expensive.” A lot of our students are young adults, so they typically have parents or even grandparents combine money to send them here.”

International students at Las Positas seem to have the extra drive and looming pressure to succeed that many of the local students here aren’t familiar with.

“They’re driven based on that they know this is a great opportunity for them,” Day said.

“By sending them abroad I think a lot of them feel a great amount of pressure and responsibility to do well and not bring shame upon the family. The expectation for them is to succeed.”

Day has spent ten years working in the International Student Program at Las Positas. “My partner Cindy and I are referred to as their mom and dad away from home, and we do try to make this a very welcoming and safe office.”

For most international students, Las Positas is not just the local community college, it’s their gateway and ticket to a better life.

For local students who live at home with their family and still get to enjoy mom’s home-cooked meals every day, the concept of leaving everything behind and going to a foreign country to attend school is inconceivable in their minds.

Mhin Kant is just 17- years old and he has left his family behind in Myanmar, a small island off the coast of Thailand, to further his education in the United States.

“I live in Lathrop, my commute is two to three hours, sometimes more,” Kant said. “I wake up at 4:30 a.m., eat breakfast, go to the ACE Train Station, which takes about an hour or more, then I take the bus from Livermore to school to get to 8 a.m. class on time and it costs $18 round trip every day.”

Despite his daily commute being longer than what most local students commute in a week, Kant doesn’t seem to mind  much knowing that it’ll be worth it down the line.

Also, given that the U.S. colleges provide an education with the necessary resources to learn about your career, Kant is willing to endure the six hours of daily commute any day if it means getting a better education. “Back home we don’t have equipment and stuff for labs so you can’t get the 100 percent education you need to qualify for work,” Kant said. “I could be back home drinking, partying, and going to music festivals, but in the near future this is the best decision.”

Abandoning your family, culture, friends and daily lifestyle to pursue an education in a foreign country is something very few Americans do. According to nafsa.com, nearly 300,000 American students received credits for studying abroad in 2015, which is still less than ten percent of all American college students, while in China about 2.2 million students alone returned in 2015 from studying abroad.

A lot of American high school students end up attending college away from their hometown, even out of state, but they do not have to face the challenges of adapting to a foreign culture, learning a second language and having their nearest family member thousands of miles away in another country.

The Americans who do study abroad however, don’t necessarily study abroad for the same time or for the same reasons as the international students who make their way to the United States do.

According to a 2015 report from monitor.icef.com, the average time spent studying abroad for Chinese students is 22 months. Americans tend to study abroad for no more than a year.

Most Americans who study abroad go for the experience of being in another culture and for having fun, but don’t necessarily intend on staying and continuing their life there afterwards. The international students who do make their way to the United States may come for those reasons as well, but they have more serious intentions when it comes to getting their education in America.

International student and Biology major Regina Yuan from China, plans on staying in the United States for a while. “I haven’t decided if I want to go to vet school or to continue to graduate school,” Yuan said. “But most likely I will stay here.” Yuan is transferring to UC Davis in the fall to pursue a bachelors degree, after obtaining the necessary credits to transfer in just a year and a half at LPC.

“Basically every semester I had 18 units so about five classes counting general ed,” Yuan said. “I’m here from 8 a.m. to sometimes 9 p.m. when I have night class. I would say I spend ten hours a day studying. This semester is pretty relaxing for me even though I’m still taking 18 credits.”

That many credits is definitely a large load to pack each semester for an international student, let alone a local student, who doesn’t have to worry about taking five classes in a foreign language as well.

During her time here, Yuan also became a part of the Tutorial Center  at Las Positas. While tutoring other students in subjects such as anthropology, biology and math the past two semesters, Yuan has grown fond of the students she tutors and enjoys helping in any way she can.

“I chose to tutor because international students cannot work outside of campus and I like this job,” Yuan said. “After I took calculus here, I started to like math and I like to see my students get into the process of loving math a little bit more.”

Yuan is not the only international student who found herself spending countless hours helping other students in the tutorial center at LPC. In total, 17 international students work at the center as tutors. Which may not seem like a lot at first, but there are 72 students in all working as tutors this spring.

So while less than two percent of the student population at Las Positas consists of international students, they account for nearly a quarter of all the tutors working in the tutorial center.

Instructor and current coordinator of the Tutorial Center, Pauline Trummel, had many good things to say about the international students working for her. “International students can only work on campus so I love hiring international students. They just fit in really well and we love the diversity we have here.”

Now in her twentieth year at the center, Trummel has noticed a push to expand the International Student Program at Las Positas. “ They’ve really tried to grow the program and we have a lot more students, a lot of good students.”

Trummel knows these students better than most people at LPC and constantly witnesses the constant push and work ethic from the international students. “I really see a desire to work hard and achieve,” she said. “When they come here, they pay more and they really want to be successful in their work. I kind of get the crème de la crème.”

The large presence of international students in the tutoring center is something Day has not been unaware of either. “Typically what they’re learning in high school, we’re learning in college,” so they do come with those skills and are able to tutor,” Day said.

“They’re natural great tutors.”

Although they keep themselves occupied spending most of their time on campus, studying, tutoring or working, the international students begin to miss home at times. Thankfully for these students, Trummel does what she can to ensure they feel at home.

“If you are here thousands of miles away from home, you don’t have that support system and you want to accomplish all you can,”  Trummel said. “I see that they develop a friendship a lot of times with other international students so they’ve got that camaraderie. I just like to make sure the internationals are taken care of.”

As far as their continuous will to succeed and do well in school, Day had this to say about the international students, “Their work ethic is remarkable. How much they’re willing to work. They’re very responsible because they can’t do a lot of these other jobs outside of school.”

With our country’s new administration in place since January of this year, Day and many others at Las Positas have assured the international students that they are and will always be welcome here.

“A lot of our students are feeling very vulnerable these days with the new administration and with the talks of visa bans and walls,” Day said. “We’re just trying to let them know this is a safe place, we value them.”   In response to the to recent executive orders by our country’s new administration, LPC President Barry Russell had this to say, “The International Student Program and Las Positas College remain committed to ensuring the well-being, safety, and success of international students at the College.”

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