International Students

A variety of flags hang Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021 inside the LSU Global Office at the LSU Student Union in Baton Rouge, La.

Peter Allen, a native of England, has been infatuated with American culture since his family visited New York City in 2017.

“Visiting there for a week-long holiday was what really kickstarted my whole interest in thinking ‘hey, maybe I can study this country,’” Allen said.

When it was time for Allen to study abroad, he chose LSU from a list of nearly 50 American universities offered by the University of Sussex.

All Allen really knew about Louisiana and LSU were its Cajun cuisine and famous athletic alumni like Shaquille O’Neal and Pete Maravich. But in the end, it was Louisiana's culture and southern hospitality that made Baton Rouge the place he wanted to call home for a semester.

“I wanted a good cultural atmosphere regarding food, music and sport, which Louisiana tops in my opinion,” Allen said.

This semester, LSU is the temporary home to 1,520 international students, according to LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard.

While Allen purposefully selected LSU, Mimi Baral came to LSU by chance.

While Baral always wanted to come to America to study, having grown up on a steady diet of American films and television, she had no specific reason for choosing LSU until she landed in Baton Rouge.

She began studying with the university’s IT department and found a job working with the International Cultural Center on campus as a student worker.

“That’s how I met people. I just made conversation with them so it wasn’t particularly hard for me,” Baral said. “I’d like to think I was lucky.”

The ICC exists on LSU’s campus to “promote internationalization at LSU, foster friendships, and facilitate greater interaction and understanding among international students at LSU and the Capital Area community,” their website reads.

“Part of our goal at the ICC is to bridge that cultural divide between our domestic community and our international one,” Laura Dean, Director of International Student Engagement at the ICC, said. “A sense of community is vital to their feeling like this is a place that they can call their home away from home.”

Dean helps create programs to help international students engage with the wider university community, including activities for the upcoming International Education Week starting Nov. 15. She called the family that’s formed there in spite of cultural differences and roadblocks “impressive.”

“It is such an amazing feat that they come to the U.S. to pursue a higher education degree potentially in a language that is not their native one and succeed to such a degree that [rivals] a domestic student who's been in the U.S. their whole lives,” Dean said. “There's a real humility to these students that come here. They're so open and happy to be a part of campus. That open-mindedness that they come with is so great to see.”

After the culture shock of studying so far away from home, it’s the ICC and the international student community at large that many students cite as instrumental to their experience in Baton Rouge.

“I didn’t know much about Baton Rouge before I came here,” Saachi Chugh, former president of the International Student Association, said.

A neuroscience graduate student from Panjab, India, Chugh describes how she felt like an outsider coming to an American university. Despite diversity and inclusion being encouraged on campus and within campus life, Chugh said she still felt isolated when she didn’t understand the social touchstones of American culture.

She was specifically confused by American football, specifically the traditions surrounding it like tailgating.

Once she began interacting with members of the ICC and ISA, Chugh felt more at home, despite COVID preventing her from returning to her family in Panjab.

“I was able to find my people through the ICC,” Chugh said. “It’s easier to find that connection because what we feel is the same, being away from home. That feeling of being able to connect with each other and understand what others are feeling instantly makes you get attached. I was kind of able to find my own family here through ICC.”

Banal feels more patriotic and in love with her own culture after studying in America. Despite enjoying the “freeing individualistic culture” in America, she still longs for a taste of home, specifically a bowl of Laphing, a spicy cold mung bean noodle dish native to Nepal.

Even after standing in awe at Tiger Stadium and researching recipes of his “new favorite foods like gumbo and jambalaya,” Allen said he misses the little things about England like the culture of walking that is simply absent in many American cities, especially Baton Rouge.

“You can compare things constantly but you fall in love with your own culture even more when you get exposed to different cultures. It’s a win-win: you get to learn someone else’s culture and you start to like yours even more than you did,” Allen said. “You realize, ‘Gosh, I really do miss a nice rainy English day’.”

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