Masahiko Nakashima first came to the United States five years ago. Prior to his arrival at CSUN, he studied in Reno, Nev., so he could develop his English.
Nakashima, senior cinema and television arts major, then came to CSUN because he heard that the university had a good film program.
“I heard a big city like Los Angeles had so many Japanese things available,” Nakashima said.
Of 1,143 international students studying at CSUN this semester, 325 are Japanese, according to Tom Piernik, director of Student Development and International Programs at CSUN.
Nakashima said it was hard for him to get used to living in the United States.
“If I had somebody to ask what is going on out here, I could get used to living here faster,” he said. “I didn’t know how to behave (or) how to answer ‘What’s up?’ The only way I can learn (to speak English) was watching another person, watching media, such as TV or video, and asking questions to friends. Sometimes I can learn from my personal mistakes.”
Nakashima is one of many international students who felt that starting anew in the United States was difficult, according to a survey conducted by SDIP in early October 2005. The survey was sent to about 1,143 international students, of which 339 responded.
The survey’s aim was to document the general attitudes that international students have about being a student at CSUN, Piernik said.
He said the most significant statistic from the survey was that 73 percent of students believe that having a strong connection with an American student is important to them and their learning.
“There is a disconnect between international students and the resident California students (who) they want to know,” Piernik said.
He also said 77 percent of students surveyed want a better connection with other international students. Thirty-five percent of those students said they have had a good connection with other international students, Piernik added.
He said 26 percent of international students believe they have made a strong connection with an American student.
Piernik said he believes that integrating groups of international and American students through social events is a good way to create friendships.
He said that if American students acted as mentors to international students, it could help to increase connections between the two groups.
“We are trying to break down the barriers (and) some assumptions (to) bring a more dynamic mix to it,” he said.
About 1,143 undergraduate F1 visa international students are on campus, with 315 new international students enrolling at CSUN this semester.
Japan has the highest exchange rate of students who attend CSUN, almost three times as many as the next closest country, Korea, according to SDIP.
Roopa Rawjee, a foreign student adviser for SDIP, said many international students come to CSUN because it has good reputation.
“As far as coming to a campus that is warm and welcoming and diverse, CSUN is a terrific place to be,” said Rawjee, who graduated in Spring 2002 and has a master’s in secondary education as well as a teaching credential from CSUN. She came to the United States in the fall of 1998.
International students first decide to attend universities like CSUN because they are attracted to the U.S. education system, Piernik said, which presents itself with various methodologies, such as students studying in workgroups and enrolling in online classes.
When an international student applies to the university, the student and the family have to sign a financial affidavit that they sufficient funds to put the student through the program. Rawjee said students are aware of the expenses at the university.
“We have to show the bank statement in order to get our student visa,” Nakashima said. “Here at CSUN, international students have to show $21,200 to prove we have enough money to go to school. Even if I show the bank statement to the school to prove my visa, it doesn’t mean my parents have enough money.”
Nakashima said he pays for school using an Installment Payment Plan, or IPP.
“It is really difficult to pay school tuition at one time, so I use (the IPP),” he said. “I guess most – international students apply for IPP.”
Even when the student fees have increased, Piernik said he has seen the number of international students coming to CSUN steadily increase.
Once international students are in the program, Piernik said they often voice the need for clarity on U.S. immigration rules and regulations. He said CSUN makes sure they are well advised so that they do not get in trouble with their visa status.
Piernik said he believes students want to make a social connection and get involved with CSUN. He said the October survey showed that 34 percent want to learn more about American values and culture, and 29 percent want to get to know the Los Angeles area.
“Students have a barrier. There is a social isolation. There is a fear of taking a risk,” Piernik said. “There is a challenge to step up and say hello. When it gets down to a student to say, ‘I’d like to be involved (but) I don’t know how,’ that’s something I’d like to fix right away for every student.”
Nakashima said he experienced culture shock when he came to the United States.
“Here (in the United States) people have totally different customs compared with Japan,” he said. “We don’t shake hands often. We don’t talk to a professor like a friend. Japanese don’t leave a tip after we eat at restaurants.”
Piernik said there are more than 200 clubs or organizations on campus and there is no limit to how many people can join. Student leaders are always looking for new members, he said.
“I think it’s a very personal thing,” Piernik said. “I think they really struggle with coming to a campus this size and this campus with this kind of environment.”
Having been in the United States for five years now, Nakashima said he believes that he has become acclimated to the American way of life. He said he believes, however, that he must still maintain his Japanese heritage.
“I feel that I have become close within the culture,” Nakashima said. “I think I can deal with most of the problems here in the U.S, but at the same time, I feel I’m Japanese. I mean I still have to eat steamed rice every day and I have to take off my shoes in my house. Basic cultural style is still in my routine. I have to live in Japanese style in the U.S, otherwise it makes me uncomfortable.”
John Barundia can be reached at email@example.com.