College is a strange and confusing time for many of us, but imagine yourself in an international student’s shoes. Suddenly, you’re in a new country, faced with a new culture, a new city with new people and the challenge of college on top of it all. U-News sat down with one of UMKC’s international students, Joshua Koni, to talk about this adjustment.
Tell me about yourself.
“I am an international student from Cameroon currently studying computer science in my junior year. I am fascinated with humans and cultures, which is why I enjoy meeting people. I someday hope to become a philanthropist.”
Why did you choose to come to the U.S.?
“When I was young, my mother told me about my uncle who worked hard and got a scholarship to study in the UK. I found this inspiring and wanted to be like him. I wanted to work hard, get a scholarship and the opportunity to travel. The U.S. was my dream destination. I became an exchange student in high school for 10 months, loved the experience, enjoyed my host family and had to come back for college.”
What do you like the most and the least about the U.S.?
“The friendliness! I have gotten to meet so many people who have been super nice and welcoming. They have all made me realize how important it is to embrace diversity in the world, especially my host family. I feel sad when people get riled up by U.S. politics; it scares me to see the hate and anger a lot of people have when talking about it.”
What do you miss the most about your home country?
“My mother’s cooking, especially her jollof rice. It has been two years since I left home. I miss sharing a meal with my family and all my younger siblings. I grew up playing several instruments with my cousin; I really miss jamming with him. As much as I miss all the fun back home, I know I will get to see them eventually.”
What has been the most challenging thing about being an international student?
“I sometimes struggle with the thought of being far from home and possibly being a victim of discrimination or a shooting. It is scary but I also know some things are inevitable when you are in a foreign land and equally in your own country. The other thing is people here really speak fast sometimes, so there are times when I can’t understand some of the jokes they make.”
What are the biggest differences you see between the university experience here and in your home country?
“The universities here are good at getting their students involved. They put in so much effort into making students feel a sense of pride and belonging. I am so proud to be a Roo and to be part of many fun clubs on campus; that’s not necessarily the case back home. Another major difference between our universities is the fact that certificates gotten from a U.S. institution have more recognition than the ones gotten from my home country. This is sad, but true!”
Describe a situation in which you felt it necessary to be an ambassador for your country? For example, has there been a situation in which you needed to clarify erroneous stereotypes or assumptions about your home culture? How did you handle that situation?
“One of the difficulties about being from a ‘not-so-known’ part of the globe is that people tend to generalize their knowledge of Africa when I tell them where I am from. This is a common misconception, and I understand when it happens, so I try to let them know that Cameroon is one of 54 countries in Africa with its own unique cultures and traditions. It really amazes people to know that Cameroon alone is home to over 200 cultures with different languages and lifestyles.”
What is the general perception of the U. S. in your home country? Are those perceptions correct?
“There is a general perception from the movies that everyone in the United States lives in big cities like NYC and has a better lifestyle than anywhere else. I find this to be true to some extent, primarily because the dollar is [worth] 500 times more than our currency, the CFA Franc, and the U.S. is one of the countries in the world leading in infrastructure. The U.S. is also seen as a place of many opportunities and a nation that deeply values the freedom of its people. However, there are certain aspects of the American dream that are not shown in the movies to tell the whole story.
Has your experience here helped you gain an appreciation for how the world is interconnected?
“Yes! I am an international student ambassador on campus and really enjoy the thought that I don’t have to travel to another country to meet a native from there. UMKC is home to over 1600 students from more than 80 countries—that’s super cool when you think of it. My experience has enabled me to learn and appreciate other cultures better, plus make a new friend.”
Finally, what is your favorite thing about UMKC?
“UMKC has made me realize how important it is to be part of something and be involved. I feel proud to be part of the Roo family and will always cherish the moments and friendships I have made here; they are lifelong ones. That is my favorite thing about UMKC (not to forget all the FREE things we have on campus).”