The experiences of international students


Madelyn Merriam, Volunteer Writer

The college application process can be hard, especially when students have a world of options. The University of North Alabama provides a second home for approximately 306 international students who come from many different places, celebrate different cultures and have varying educational experiences. UNA prides itself for its welcoming atmosphere towards everyone, as well as diversity on campus.

Former international student, Bhavy “Kush” Garg, came to UNA in 2018 from Chandigarh, India and earned his degree in Computer Science in May of 2021. Garg’s favorite thing about his time at UNA is the events. He continues to participate in student events and inspire others to work hard and spread happiness. The 21 year-old fitness coach and information security intern says that moving from India to the US was “a big decision.” 

“Whenever I came here I was really open to everyone, so I think it was good, but I was nervous and sad to leave my family and friends back in India,” said Garg.

He discussed the difficulties of his studies in India, which he says were “so hard.” He explained how in India, students do not have part time jobs. 

“Getting a job helps you deal with colleagues and how to act in a job area,” said Garg.

Garg is well known across campus and never meets a stranger. He started learning new languages so he could make new international friends. 

“That’s how I actually knew that I was really good at picking up languages,” Garg said. 

He is fluent in many different languages, ranging from Japanese, Hindi, Punjabi, ASL, Spanish and English. Ultimately, he encourages students to be open to learning, emphasizes the importance of work ethics and gaining personal experience and tells students not to give up.

Konstantin Babushkin, from Ulan-Ude, Russia, came to UNA by participating and becoming a finalist in a program sponsored by the United States Embassy and U.S. Department of State. Konstantin, who before coming to UNA previously attended Saint-Petersburg State University—one of the largest universities in Russia—studies history, politics and international relationships. 

“[Studying abroad] gives you a new perspective on things back home and gives you perspective on education and on who you want to be and what values you should inculcate,” said Babushkin.

Babushkin has a desire to share what his life in Russia was like. He discussed how the classes were long in comparison to his 50 minute classes here at UNA, and laughed about the weather, specifically compared to the brutal winters he’s used to in Russia.

“One thing that was scary was that every building, every door, has this no gun sign,” Babushkin said. “It looks threatening, because in Europe and Russia you cannot see stuff like that, because it’s by default that people think that you have no gun.”

Konstantin also demonstrates his recent practices of traditional throat singing, which he defines as “when you do two sounds at the same time.” 

Konstantin performs some of many different pitches. 

Two well-known fashionistas and friends—Barbara Varadinkova and Ariel Chen—are popular for their kind hearts and graceful natures. Barbara, a 19-year-old from Žiar and Hronom, Slovakia is currently majoring in criminal justice in hopes to gain better argumentation and communication skills and learn more about law and crime. Ariel is a senior majoring in English for the semester and is from Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She runs her own YouTube channel under the name of ‘The Areo,’ and has participated in many cultural events, including the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. Both are experiencing their first year and semester at UNA and both claim that traveling to the U.S. was normal, because they traveled to other countries with their parents before college. 

Varadinkova shared that her first week was terrible.

“I’m alone here and this is a big campus to me,” Varadinkova said. “This is bigger than my campus in my country. I was excited because of the place and the lion and everything, but I was alone, and I was kind of getting used to everything. I had to overcome myself and start talking to people.” 

Varadinkova said that when she met Chen, she felt that things would get better over time. 

They expressed a few differences they have noticed in the education system here as compared to their home countries. 

“Everyone is so active and so diligent in class,” Chen said. “They take notes and ask lots of questions, but this kind of situation doesn’t happen in my country. We will just sit and listen to the professor and normally don’t ask questions, and professors usually don’t ask us questions, so it is very silent the whole class. It takes me a lot of braveness to ask questions here.”

“Everything is different here, especially the school system,” Varadinkova said. “In my country it’s so stressing and hard,” 

All four students agreed that studying at UNA was an easy decision. 

“Studying in the United States has been my dream since I was very little, so that’s also the reason why I’m majoring in English, because I want to come here and experience the life in the United States,” Chen said. 

While each student expressed many positive factors of their experiences at UNA so far, they all had a similar opinion on Rice Hall, an area of on-campus housing. Varadinkova and Chen stressed the temperatures in the showers, discussing how one minute they’ll be freezing and the next they’ll be “worse than a hot spring.” Chen noted that she’s even found a few cockroaches in her room.  

“Hygiene is very important,” said Babushkin, resident of Rivers Hall. “In Rice Hall, it’s much worse. They have people from different backgrounds, they have different behaviors, and they have different habits and that’s why it’s difficult to fit in if guys from India, china, etc. all in one room and have to deal with this.” 

Garg, who lived in Rice and moved to Rivers after gaining a navigator position, claims he disliked the lack of natural sunlight in the rooms, stating he is a “sunlight person.” 

The living conditions in Rice Hall are considered questionable, especially for students who have traveled abroad to be a student at UNA. It’s important for the university to consider and push to improve living for future international students. 

Learning about a few of the international students’ own personal cultures and stories about their experiences traveling and living at UNA can help students and faculty alike to better appreciate the world’s various possibilities and opportunities. The staff, students, and campus at UNA help international students feel comfortable, which encourages everyone at UNA to interact more closely with the world around them. It’s comforting to know that the melting pot of the United States is alive and well, even in Florence.