Exchange Student Series

Dec 122004
Authors: B.A. Klaene

If there was ever a difficult time to be a stranger in a strange land it's now.

In recent years American foreign policy and the media portrayal of foreign countries has created some obstacles for foreign students wanting to study in the United States as well as misconceptions about the atmosphere in America.

"There have been some challenges since 9/11 and the Patriot Act," said Seth Webb, coordinator for International Programs.

Some Saudi Arabian students were inundated with hassles when registering with the U.S. government and attaining student visas. Basem Abu-Jamil, an English literature Ph.D. student, from Saudi Arabia, came to the United States to study after Sept. 11, 2001.

"I heard a lot before I came here. I was given suggestions and advice especially after Sept. 11," said Abu-Jamil. "My first experience here was bad because I spent five hours detained with my family at JFK airport. Other than that my experience here has been good."

Ahmed Khogeer, a chemical engineering Ph.D. student, from Saudi Arabia who has lived in the United States for several years, feels the differences after Sept. 11, 2001, are drastic.

"This is a completely different perception of America than what we saw in the movies. We grew up with the American dream and Pepsi and songs," Khogeer said. "Now we ask 'Is this really America, which we loved with the Mickey Mouse and Scooby-Doo?' No, this is completely different."

Khaleel Alyahya, a neurobiology Ph.D. student from Saudi Arabia, has experienced the opposite.

"When I planned to come here (people) warned me that I would find so many things that were bad in women and men," Alyahya said. "So many fake stories about the culture and the life here, besides, I had no one who came here before to tell me how the life or culture was here."

The study abroad experience changed some of Alyahya's misconceptions.

"I came here and was shocked because of so many positive things I found here," Alyahya said. "I did not hear about these things in my country."

Other students have faced turmoil with regards to their country's portrayal in the American media.

Ku Birm Kwon, a senior Biochemistry student from South Korea, acknowledged that the United States does receive some negative press in South Korea but that the coverage is minimal compared to the coverage of Asia by the American press.

"The news about Asia is bad news. When I watch CNN I barely see good news about Asia," Kwon said.

Manuela Goller, a German graduate student studying German, said media coverage differs from what she experienced in Germany.

"There has always been a certain criticism about the way that the media is set up here. It focuses on American policy and doesn't really look at other countries," Goller said. "If you have any news coverage it is running at the bottom of the screen and nobody is reading it. I am use to a completely different format of news coverage."

Thorsten Kramer, a Ph.D. student, from Germany, has noticed differences in political coverage in the United States compared to Germany.

"The Germans have a real problem when it comes to patriotism," Kramer said. "Leadership, patriotism and war are very much connected to German history, especially WWII."

Goller believes some of these political stereotypes exist in U.S. media.

"There are a couple of clich/s that we don't like. One's that Americans tend to put themselves up as the people who save the world," Goller said, "which may be true in some aspects, because they have the strongest military force and they are the only one who can do anything because they are so big."


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