Home away from home: housing the college’s international students

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Frankie Zeng, a student from Guangzhou, China lives with a family in an Overland Park suburb. Photo by Andrew Hartnett, The Campus Ledger.

Rebekah Lodos

Special to the Ledger

Living in the US on a student visa can be difficult due to the rigid restrictions on how much a student is allowed to work, so international students must sometimes be creative with their living situations. Host families, roommates and distant relatives often provide housing for those visiting to study.

The landscape and buildings of the Midwest can be vastly different to international students’ native homes.

“Overland Park is so small, and in China we have a lot of people, so everywhere has skyscrapers,” Frankie Zeng, a student from Guangzhou, China said. “American homes are built … by some wood material, but in China it’s not; it’s bricks and it’s concrete. It’s not like America.”

Zeng lived with two host families, but beyond the construction, he notices no big difference in his American home. “Chinese families like to decorate with Western art,” Zeng said. “In my family we had some traditional stuff and some Western stuff.”

To remember home, Zeng hangs up posters.

“My parents brought for me… some cartoon paper, some Japanese cartoons. I think everybody’s watched some Japanese cartoons, right?”

Family is much of what makes a house a home and it can be difficult to adapt without it.

“The biggest thing is not living with your family, because in Brazil you stay with your family until you’re ready to get married,” Mariana Dalsin, a student from Santos, a beach town in Brazil, said.

Dalsin lived with a host family for three years before moving in with friends.

“[Back home] we had a garden with trees,” Dalsin said. “We had fruits in our backyard. My host family house … had a garden with tomatoes … but no trees with fruits like I did in Brazil.”

Dalsin also thinks air conditioning is one of the unlikely perks of moving here.

“We don’t have AC [back] home, you know, so just being here in the summertime and being inside, and it being a good temperature, that’s something huge,” Dalsin said.

To feel at home, Dalsin likes to listen to Brazilian music and hang up pictures of family, friends and the beach. “Then I can just look at it and it brings me good memories,” Dalsin said.

Paula Ortega, from Colombia, misses her family’s warmth.

“Well my family… I felt that there was like love in the air, basically. My [mother] was always asking, ‘How are you, do you want some food?’ That’s what I miss, people in the house. Here my roommates are always working, and we don’t get to see each other,” Ortega said.

Ortega has had great experiences with her host family and now with roommates.

“My experiences were amazing, because I got to meet so many students from different countries, because we were living with a family host … But, now I love it because I got to meet these two ladies and they are awesome, so each experience is different.”

Color is unfortunately scarce in the Midwest, according to Ortega.

“We use different colors in the house, so blue, orange all the time, all the colors in the same house … That’s what I don’t see here in the US. This is white and black or brown and that’s it – super simple,” Ortega said. “That’s maybe what I miss the most.”

Many students try to make their living situations feel more like their native homes, but others try to avoid the memories altogether.

“I don’t do anything to feel at home, because if I do it makes me remember home, so I just tend to push that away,” Nigerian student Abdulmajeed Baba Ahmed said, who lives with distant relatives in Missouri.

“Whenever [my aunts] come to my house … they watch the traditional Hausa movies, and sometimes I kind of sit and watch some scenes with them,” Ahmed said. “I don’t typically go out of my way to watch them because it makes me remember home and I miss it, so … I’m not going to do that.”

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