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Assimilation in a strange land

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By Mathews M. Cherian

International students' problems, while similar to those of other students, tend to be far more acute in nature, according to the student panel of the Visiting Committee.

"All students have problems. International students' problems are magnified because they are away from home," said Rossana Chiang '87, vice president of the International Students Associations.

Culture shock is a major problem among many international students, Chiang said. Often international students have very different values from Americans, and have troubles assimilating themselves into the American culture, Chiang said.

Zvi Shiller, an international graduate student panelist in the Visiting Committee discussion, agreed. "You're living in a foreign country, in a foreign culture. Someone says `have a nice day' and you might think you just got a new friend."

Without help, international students suffering from culture shock can easily become depressed and isolated, Chiang said. The undergraduate international student orientation does a good job in initially helping international students adjust, Chiang added.

In contrast, the orientation program for international graduate students is lacking, Shiller said. The graduate program is not nearly as extensive or intensive as the undergraduate orientation, Shiller noted. "It is very small scale."

Dean Robert Randolph agreed that the graduate orientation program is weak. "We're working hard on improving the international graduate program," he said.

The Dean's Office is trying to work with international students who feel "particularly vulnerable," Randolph said. "International students don't use the system as well as others, partly because they are uninformed."

Chiang suggested that a program be set up for international students returning to their home countries. Many international students' values change while they are away from home, she said, and they feel alienated from their families and friends when they return home.

To remedy this problem, Chiang advocated that MIT alumni who return to their home countries could keep in touch with students presently at MIT who plan to return home. This would essentially be a "peer counseling system," Chiang said.