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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

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Duaij Alsabah is one of 353 international freshmen attending SDSU this fall. (Photo: Alejandra Cruz) Duaij Alsabah is one of 353 international freshmen attending SDSU this fall. (Photo: Alejandra Cruz)

International Freshmen Arrive at SDSU

International freshmen check-in day was filled with excitement and nerves for incoming Aztecs from abroad.
By Michael Klitzing

“I’m excited to be independent and experience a different life here.”

For the new crop of international students, international freshmen check-in day was the first introduction to San Diego State University. Aztecs from all around the globe made their way to campus on Aug. 22 to process their immigration paperwork and learn more about being a student at SDSU.

Many of the students had just gotten off a plane. Some were on U.S. soil for the first time and still working up the courage to converse with native English speakers.

Yuwei Liu, an international business major from China, had been in the U.S. for about 24 hours after a journey that included layovers in Beijing and Seattle. Yet she claimed she wasn’t tired.

“Oh no,” she said, smiling. “This sunshine wakes me up.”

Liu’s first impression of San Diego? A track and field fan, she was excited to spot the SDSU SportsDeck from the plane window. Once at the airport, Liu beamed at the sight of palm trees. She said it was just like she’d seen in pictures.

Not everything about Liu’s first day in the U.S. was postcard perfect, however.

“My first couple of hours, it was hard to adjust to not speaking the Chinese language – I even found it a bit hard to order things at supermarkets,” Liu said, demonstrating a strong grasp of the language but wavering confidence.

That, in a nutshell, is what many of the 353 international freshmen from 49 countries are experiencing as the fall semester begins: excitement for an opportunity, mixed with trepidation for the unknown.

A new adventure

International Student Center (ISC) Director Noah Hansen calls freshman check-in day his favorite day of the year.

“There are so many students who haven’t been to the U.S. before and they come to us from so many different countries,” Hansen said. “They come to us nervous and excited. This experience is going to be a transformation for them, and this is the first day of it.”

There was certainly no shortage of excitement on display at check-in.

Giulia Gidoni, a pre-journalism and advertising major who is originally from Italy, spent her first week in San Diego exploring the city with her mother. Not surprisingly, much of that time was spent at the beach.

“I’ve gone around mostly with my mom, so I’m excited to get to know new people so I can actually fit in,” Gidoni said.

Duaij Alsabah, a civil engineering major from Kuwait, came a week early as well, opting to spend time with friends in Los Angeles. The third-largest international student cohort at SDSU hails from Kuwait and at check-in, Alsabah was accompanied by a few Kuwaiti friends who are also incoming freshmen.

“I’m excited to be independent and experience a different life here,” Alsabah said. “It’s a good vibe and I’ve got my friends here.”

Nerves and fears

Not everyone has the benefit of a built-in social network. Lui said the only person she knows in the area is her uncle, who lives in downtown San Diego. Ahead of her trip, she tried to make connections with other SDSU students on Facebook, but so far, she doesn’t know anyone in her residence hall.

Leaving family on the other side of the world is also stressful. After checking in, Maryam Alkhaleefa, a civil engineering major from Kuwait, sat in the International Student lounge area with her father. While she’s always dreamed of studying abroad, she admits her family has mixed emotions.

“They’re scared, but they supported me,” Alkhaleefa said. “We’re a really close family.”

Many students, particularly those from non-Western cultures, are also concerned about academics. Things like speaking up in class or attending a professor’s office hours may not come naturally to students who are not used to the American educational system. That can add to the pressure many international students already feel.

“I’m worried because I don’t want to fail,” Jae Sun "Jay" Sin, a business administration management major from South Korea, said. “I’m just planning to go to the library, work out and eat – those will be my three routines.”

To ease the transition and connect international students to resources on campus, the ISC offers programming and targeted advising for all international freshmen. ISC staff also sympathize with what these international Aztecs are going through.

“I have huge respect for these students,” Hansen said. “Most people, when they’re 18, don’t move to another country for four years to get a degree. We’re excited and honored to be a part of this truly life-changing experience for these students.”
For more stories about international students at SDSU, visit