International students constitute seven percent of the student body at Williams. From a total of nearly 50 different countries, they bring enormous diversity of experience and viewpoints to the campus. The process and reasons behind their arrival at Williams, cultural adjustments facing them at Williams and their plans for life after Williams are as varied as the many nations international students represent.
Stuart Reigeluth ’01 knew about Williams because his dad attended the school. An American citizen, Reigeluth had been living in Belgium for the past 12 years, and he said he feels far more Belgian or European than American. When he came to Williams this fall, he faced a degree of culture shock. “I had to learn how to drive,” he said. “The drinking age is different. How people feel about life in general is very different.”
Reigeluth also is accustomed to studying in French rather than English. “I’m having a lot of trouble in bio. because it’s a lot of reading and I don’t read that fast in English,” he said. “I still think in French a lot.”
Despite some social and academic adjustments, Reigeluth said, “It’s gone pretty well because most people here are very open about things.”
Carol Shirai ’01 calls Sao Paolo, Brazil, home, and she too said the Williams community has made the adjustment easier. “There’s not as much of a culture shock at Williams because it’s intellectual and elitist,” she said. “It’s not like going to the Midwest [where her relatives live]. We see more American people and culturally shocking things in the Midwest. Williams is a different world altogether.”
Shirai also noted that the differences here are subtler, including “basic attitudes and how people react to different things.” For example, in Brazil, she said, there is more of an emphasis on drinking.
Shirai found out about Williams through the college counselor at her international school in Brazil, and through the firsthand experiences of her brother Dan Shirai ’00.
Though Shirai was born and raised in Brazil, her mother is American, making both Shirai children familiar with higher education in the United States. “It was always part of ’the plan’ to go to college in the States,” she said. “It’s a better system.”
Angelo Patentas ’99 grew up in Greece, but retained a view of education influenced by the American system. Though his parents are both Greek, Patentas was sent to an American school in Greece and his parents wanted him to come to the United States for college. Patentas said he chose Williams based on the recommendations of Brad Whiteman ’98, and because of the soccer program of Coach Mike Russo.
Patentas also has had to conform to life in the United States and at Williams. “It was a tremendous culture shock,” he said. “It was really tough adjusting. It’s just a different way of life. It’s more upbeat. People are more uptight than at home.”
Patentas also said he feels acclimated, “but every time you come back, there’s always that shock.” Patentas plans to return to Greece upon graduation.
Alfonso Gonzalez del Riego ’00 also plans to return to Peru after graduation. He did not choose or even apply to Williams directly for college. Gonzalez del Riego won a Fulbright scholarship that grants talented high school students a college scholarship. Based on his general description of his ideal college,
the Fulbright Commission placed him at Williams. He had never visited before he arrived last fall, but he has found Williams to be a relatively easy transition.
“I did have to adjust a bit, but it wasn’t so difficult,” he said. “I was surprised at how easy it was. The fact that it’s so small helps. It’s not very different for international students because everyone is leaving home and going somewhere else. That’s the way I see it. It’s just that home is a little more far away for me.”
In a similar vein, Johan Kongsli ’98 said, “It wasn’t that much worse for me because Norway is not that different.” Kongsli said the academics here are actually more similar to his high school in Norway than the Norwegian university system would have been.
Kongsli knew that he wanted to spend his college years abroad, either in England or the United States. “The States seemed like some place to go for a few years . . . ,” he said. “I hadn’t really heard of any or a lot of colleges in the States. I contacted someone in the States and they recommended Williams. I sent out applications sort of randomly. I visited the places that accepted me in the spring, and I liked Williams the best.”
Kongsli said he has been very pleased with his choice, and he plans to remain in the United States for a few years after graduation to see areas other than Williamstown.
Andrea Frohmader ’99 also wants to stay in the States after graduation. “Because I’ve moved around so much, I’m looking for stability, so I want to live here for a few years after I graduate,” she said.
Frohmader grew up in Honduras, Guatemala and the Philippines, and her parents now live in Egypt. She found out about Williams because her father went to college in Massachusetts and a family friend attended Williams. “I knew all along that I was going to end up going to college in the States,” she said.
“The U.S. has the best higher education system.”
Though she lived in the United States during elementary school, she said “it was hard getting used to at first.”
Emmanuel Benjamin ’01 came to the Purple Valley from Zimbabwe and he cited a more difficult period of adjustment than some other students experienced. “At first, it was really overwhelming, very different,” he said. “The people are very different. It was a nice adjustment, though, not one of those hard ones.”
“It’s a totally new experience,” he added. Benjamin said he came to college in the United States because he wanted a change. “I had traveled a lot, but not to America,” he explained. “I thought it would be a great experience and a great education.”
Benjamin chose Williams because of its good reputation, and like many other international students, said he is happy with his choice. “I’ve only been to Williamstown in America,” he said. “They tell me it’s a bubble but I like it.”
Mimi Huang ’98 spent her first year of college in the United States outside the Williams bubble at Boston University (B.U.). She said she did not have to adjust to life in America at B.U.. “More than 50 percent of the students at B.U. are international,” she said. “I didn’t know many non-international
students at BU. I think it [the amount of cultural adjustment] depends on what school you’re at.”
At Williams, she has had to make greater adaptations from life in Singapore (and before that Taiwan), especially academically. “Classes are very different here as compared to Asia,” Huang said. “I came from the Singapore education system and the profs have a higher rank as opposed to you. It’s a much more
restricted relationship. It took a lot of getting used to that you could talk to your profs on the same level.”
Huang plans to return to Taiwan immediately after graduation.
Sherman Lim ’00 also came to Williams from Singapore. Rather than the educational differences, he highlighted the physical ones. “This place is very different than Singapore,” he said. “Singapore is very cosmopolitan and Williams is very rural. But I’ve spent 21 years of my life in a city so this is a chance to experience a totally different environment, and I’ve enjoyed it.”
Lim said he came to the United States for college because he wanted a new experience. “I thought for the next three or four years of education, I’d go somewhere different,” he said. “There are so many good schools in the U.S..” Of those many schools, Lim stumble
d upon Williams by chance. “A friend of mine actually recommended me,” he explained. “I wasn’t very familiar with it.”
On the other hand, Jae-Ho Yim ’01 selected Williams based on college research and the experiences of a family member at Williams. He considered schools in the United States for academic reasons.
“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, and if I studied in a university in my country, I’d have to declare a major at the beginning,” Yim said. “I have until junior year here. The education is also better.”
Yim did not experience culture shock when arriving here for college because he has lived in many different countries, including the United States, during his life. Though his parents currently reside in Egypt, he is originally from Korea and that is where he envisions his future. “I’m almost positively sure that I’ll live in Korea after my education is over,” he said.
Echoing these sentiments, Boudhayan Sen ’00 also plans to return to his home in India. “I will definitely go back to India to work on biotech. issues after I’ve finished my training,” he said.
Sen said he was attracted to schools in the United States because of their superior biotechnology facilities, but he did not make the transition to American life as easily as others. “I was actually quite miserable last year, especially Winter Study last year,” he said. “It’s so far away. And not knowing anybody. The culture is so different; the way people relate is so different.” But, he has found his place. “This year has been great,” Sen said.