From corners of the world to the Corner
University community impresses numerous exchange students
Aya Abdelfatah left the architecture studio at Campbell Hall around 3 a.m. last Tuesday to head back to her dorm in Hereford. As a third-year Architecture exchange student from Cairo, Abdelfatah waited for a bus outside Alderman Library not knowing buses stopped running at midnight. Two first year girls approached Abdelfatah and asked her where she was going and offered to walk with her as far as their dorms on McCormick Road. Once they reached McCormick, the two girls handed Abdelfatah off to another pair walking to new dorms ensuring she got home safely.
“This is what I mean when I say everyone here is nice. The first girl took my number and was texting me all the way making sure I was okay. It is something within the spirit of this place,” Abdelfatah said.
There are currently 79 exchange students enrolled at the University. Of those 79, 17 of them will be here for the full academic year. Exchange students come from all over the world from institutions the University has exchange agreements with and enroll in both undergraduate and graduate schools. The Cavalier Daily had the opportunity to sit down with five of these students to discuss academics, beer pong and everything in between.
A great sense of community is something that several students identified as being a key difference between the University and their home institution.
“It’s very different from where I’m from. At home I go to university then go home because I live with my parents. Over here, I live here. I feel like I know every single place and most of the people, which of course I don’t. That’s the most wonderful thing, you have this huge family,” Abdelfatah said.
Third year College exchange student Gabriel Poulain from Sciences Po Lyon in France cited the array of social hubs the University provides in the form of coffee shops, dining halls, residence halls, and student organizations.
“One thing that surprised me is the community aspect. Not the community as a whole, but the communities inside. You see that mostly when you eat to the dining halls and you see the [table tents]. You see ‘Black Women for…’, ‘are you Jewish and…’ ‘Are you Chinese and …’ are you a liberal arts major and gay,” he said. This is different from in France, he said, where “community is a bad word” and differences as such are constantly being diminished at the university, where everyone is supposed to be equal.
“We don’t encourage communities,” Poulain said.
The exchange students did not seem to be that surprised by much as they came ready for new experiences and learned through their home institutions what American college life is like.
“Most of our television is American. So I’ve always had this environment in my life and now I’ve stepped into it. The street signs were always in the movies and now they’re actually in the roads,” third-year Law exchange student from the University of Melbourne Chris Lewis said.
Many students chose to study at U.Va. because of its academic reputation and have found classes and class structure interesting and challenging. Poulain explained classes in France are large lectures that meet for longer periods but there is less outside work in comparison to his classes at the University.
“I like the way discussion classes are led. There is a lot of exchange between students and faculty and that is something I like for sure,” he said.
Ruth Lan, third-year exchange student from Fudan University in Shanghai also highlighted the relationship between professors and students.
“People here are always ready to express themselves. No matter how many students there are, people are always reacting with the professor and are happy to express whatever they are thinking whether it’s right or wrong. That is something I’ve never experienced in my life at my home. I don’t judge whether it’s wrong or right or which is the best but I’m saying that’s different. But according to the different cultural background, everybody is doing that here so everyone is following this kind of environment.”
More than anything, these students are looking for the opportunity to meet and interact with American students, but some have been finding it difficult to do so. They are here to learn, experience new things, and have some fun—the same as any college student.
So the next time you notice an unfamiliar face in your lecture or discussion or a hint of accent from the person ordering a coffee in front of you, say hi and perhaps chat for a while — and show the world what kind of community U.Va. really has.
Editor’s note: Thanks to all of the foreign exchange students who expressed interest in speaking with The Cavalier Daily about your experience at the University whom we were not able to include. Please feel free to leave a comment below!