Most students in Davis hail from the San Francisco Bay Area or the Central Valley, while a sizable number come from the “distant lands” of Los Angeles and San Diego. But a large and growing number – 2,500 students, according to the Education Abroad Center – come from other countries.
Although international students decide to study in the U.S. for a variety of reasons, most come to the United States in order to get the “American experience” – to see how life here matches up to what they hear from others, and to what they see on TV and in the movies.
“I decided to come because I wanted to improve my English, and because [the United States] was a country I was interested in. I wanted to live the American way of life,” said Caroline Gibon, a junior economics major from France. “It’s quite mythical – in Europe, we talk a lot about America, and how it … is here. I wanted to see it for myself.”
Other students come for more particular reasons. Steffen Münch, a German national and senior viticulture and enology major, came in order to take advantage of Davis’ expertise in wine-making, and in particular, to make use of the university’s brand new Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.
“It’s really helpful to have a degree from here … I hope to write my thesis here. [The university] encourages students to learn, to be active – it makes sure that everybody is on the same level,” Münch said.
The truth is, more often than not Davis is not the top choice for international students seeking to study in the UC system.
“In the majority of cases, Davis is not the first choice for students, because they can choose to go other campuses, and Berkeley and Los Angeles are more well known abroad,” said Rosana Avila, the EAP program coordinator. “But with every student that I talk to, they are actually glad that they did because their experience is excellent – it’s a small city that they can easily get around in. People in Davis are very friendly to international students.”
It definitely seems to be the case that the university’s international guests do see Davisites – and Americans by extension – as friendly people always able and willing to lend a helping hand.
“Everybody here is really happy, like they’ve taken several medications on a daily basis,” said Nick Hallchurch, a first-year political science major from Wales in Great Britain.
“People have been helpful as well – if you ask them a question like, ‘Where is Dutton Hall?’ or something, they will actually take the time to show you on a map,” he said. “In Britain – unless they really fancied me or I offered them money – no way.”
It seems a huge factor in the happiness hypothesis is, simply put, the weather. Students often hail from countries that lack the weather California is famously spoiled with. Sunny means happy, and Davis (although perhaps not recently) gets a lot of sun.
“When I call my friends back at home, and they say, ‘What are you up to?’ I say it’s clear skies, it’s 85 degrees outside, and I’m going to go outside and chill with some friends,” Hallchurch said.
“The weather here is lovely, I love the weather here,” said Jie Yoon Park, a junior exchange student from Yonsei University in South Korea. “In Korea, it’s really hot and humid in the summer, and really cold in the winter. Here it’s moderate; the summer is hot, but it’s dry so it’s much nicer.”
Some international students have a harder time adjusting than others. Undoubtedly, they encounter language barriers, and must learn about and adapt to the nuances of American culture.
Even for those that have a working knowledge of English, things can be difficult – if not a little interesting.
“People here say ‘tight’ – and I think, what do you mean? And I hear a lot of ‘hella’ – we definitely don’t have that in the U.K. It doesn’t seem to flow, people saying ‘hella’ instead of ‘yes,'” Hallchurch said. “[The phrase] ‘I guess’ is another one; that’s a typical Americanism.”
Food is another concern. Gibon explained that in France, attitudes toward food, as well as the types of food served, are vastly different. She related the story of when her father visited from France, and lost six kilograms (for you Americans, that’s about 13 pounds) because he couldn’t stand the food here. Gibon has a more moderate opinion.
“The food here is good, but there isn’t a lot of variety. There’s always pizza, bagels, hamburgers and French fries. [And] there’s almost no individually-owned restaurants. They all belong to a bigger firm,” Gibon said.
But despite some minor transitive difficulties, students retain and cultivate appreciation of American culture.
“In France, we say it’s the biggest country in the world, the main power in the world,” Gibon said. “The image of America is that of a country of contradictions – you have the best and also the worst, the very rich and the very poor.… What I like is your power to try new things, there’s a spirit of entrepreneurship.”
“Americans are really individualistic; they don’t really care about what others will think about their behavior – they will do what they want to do, and I think that’s nice,” Park said.
Pertaining to recent American political events, it seems that our brothers and sisters from abroad are of one mind when it comes to the new president.
“People in Germany are really excited about Obama,” Münch said. “They talk about it as a revolution of the democracy here.”
ANDRE LEE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.