By Yunji Kim
It is common to see international students at the University of Utah nowadays. As students have more opportunities to study abroad, it has become much easier to meet people from various countries. There is the University of Utah Asia Campus in South Korea, which was established in 2014. Due to having a campus in South Korea, students and faculty members from two different countries can make connections with each other. However, foreign students were not a common sight in the 1960s. Even until the 1970s, many Chinese students at the University of Utah did not feel comfortable attending the university in the United States. Since it was unusual to have international students at that time, these students had a hard time adapting to a strange environment.
The Daily Utah Chronicle reported on May 8, 1961, that an Egyptian exchange student, Gamal Arafa, attended the University of Utah for a year. Before Arafa returned to his homeland, he shared his experience at the university, and how the attitude toward foreign students should be changed. What he liked about the university was how the students were studying based on the textbooks instead of lectures. He also liked how the university required students to take courses in different areas instead of only courses that are related to their major. However, he criticized the student government for not doing anything for students. He thought America, especially in colleges, neglected foreign students. His words were controversial among local students at the University of Utah.
In “Fit Punishment” published on May 8, 1961, one of the students said local students need to pay more attention to foreign students since they felt neglected in America. On the other hand, several students expressed unpleasant feelings toward Arafa’s interview. In the article, “We Got Letters from Our Readers,” published on May 9, 1961, McPherson, Dannenberg, and Naegle said that it is hard to take the opinions from him, and Emmett said foreign students come to the university to study like other local students. Therefore, the foreign students should be treated like any other students.
There were contrasting opinions among students about foreign students. Although Arafa felt that local students needed to pay more attention, there were several events held for foreign students. According to The Daily Utah Chronicle published on May 1, 1961, there was an Egyptian Dinner as a school event that allowed the students to taste the Egyptian food. The university has put an effort into giving opportunities to indirectly experience the foreign culture for students.
Moreover, there was an orientation for foreign students. On October 5, 1961, The Daily Utah Chronicle stated that the students from the abroad committee planned to develop foreign student programming on campus. Due to having many events for international students, The Daily Utah Chronicle from May 4, 1961, announced that president A. Ray Olpin was recognized for his work in education through foreign exchange programs.
Despite these efforts the university put into, foreign students from the University of Utah still had difficulties living in the United States. In 1972, Chang surveyed Chinese students from the University of Utah, and they had a problem adjusting to the environment. According to Chang, Chinese students suggested the school to provide more information to help them understand the school, culture, social customs, a more adequate orientation program such as conversational and slang English, and more social activities to allow opportunities to be exposed to American culture and people. However, some of the difficulties Chinese students listed were not what the school or local students could address such as homesickness or cultural background which includes difference in language and social life. Although the university tried several ways for foreign students to feel more welcomed, some students felt there were not enough.
Due to the differences in cultural background and since America is not their home country, there are limitations for foreign students to feel at home. Foreign students facing difficulties in adaptation are continuing which both the university and the foreign students need to put more effort to break down the cultural barriers. Currently, the University of Utah did not only end up having events for international students but establish Asia Campus in South Korea which the students from both countries can experience and make connections with each other. Making connections with various countries would lead to breaking down the cultural barriers in the future. The data from the University of Utah states that the percentage of international students has increased from 25% to 29% for the past four years. As the rate of international students increases, the boundary between local and foreign students would be reduced because students would be exposed to diverse students with different background. Therefore, the foreign students would gradually feel less neglected while attending at the University of Utah.
Yunji Kim graduated in December 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication and a minor in Psychology.
“Foreign Student Meet Set For Program Orientation,” Daily Utah Chronicle, October 5, 1961.
“Students from Abroad to Present Egyptian Dinner,” Daily Utah Chronicle, May 1, 1961, 3.
“Recognition,” Daily Utah Chronicle, May 4, 1961, 2.
“United States’ Attitude Week Says Foreigner,” Daily Utah Chronicle, May 8, 1961, 1.
“Fit Punishment,” Daily Utah Chronicle, May 8, 1961, 2.
Neil McPherson, John Dannenberg, John Naegle and Lester Emmett, “We Get Letters from Our Readers,” Daily Utah Chronicle, May 9, 1961, 2.
Chang, Pang-Hsiung. Problems of Adjustment for Chinese Students at the University of Utah. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah, 1972.