I wish you could meet our next guest in person. I worked as a dorm assistant in the same boarding home in Thailand where Shan Shan was staying. If you were to meet Shan Shan, you would quickly learn how gifted she is as an artist and a musician. You’ll find her instagram account (Shanshan.akamu https://www.instagram.com/shanshan.akamu/?hl=en ) loaded with beautiful scenes and people that she seems to capture so perfectly with her camera.
Anyway, here is Shan Shan…
Name: Shan Shan
Status: College student (Fine Arts)
Places lived: India (birth to age 5), Thailand (age 5-18), Michigan (college)
Notes: Shan Shan attended boarding school in Thailand from age 6-18, while her parents lived in a different city in Thailand
Why did you choose to come to college in the States?
I didn’t want to go to India because I don’t know Hindi. Even though many of Indian universities teach in English, it would have been hard for me to adjust to their accents, and generally adjust to their culture. I also couldn’t see India as a place I could study art, specifically graphic design. As for Thailand, I wanted to go somewhere different to where i had grown up in
Where is Home?
“I normally tell people that home would probably be where my parents are, but then if they ask me where I’m from, I normally just answer “India but I lived in Thailand” I try to keep it short”
What are some benefits of being in your TCK experience?
“Um…knowing people all over the world, having that connection, and you have more of a cultural experience, and you are like more diverse than other people…*laughs*”
What are some disadvantages?
“Some disadvantages…not having anywhere to go back to.”
I asked Shan Shan to explain this a little more. Why can’t you go back to Thailand or India?
“So going back to Thailand, I have to get a Visa, so I don’t really feel like I belong there… but then going back to India, I don’t really know people there because I didn’t ever live there and I’ve forgotten the language….so…yeah”
What has it been like for you to transition into college in the US?
“For me it was easier than I thought….probably because I went to an international school, so I knew the language well, so…yeah.”
What are some challenges you faced transitioning into the States?
Shan Shan was able to express many challenges that came with being an International student.
- Starting off alone:
“I came in with…like…no one, because some people have host families, some people come with their parents for a few months to help them settle or something, but for me……like buying things, like… getting ready for college, like getting a computer, getting a phone for America and stuff like that. I had to get those, but it was a challenge because I didn’t have really someone to drive me.” Shan Shan did explain that there was an international group on campus that would provide some trips to the store sometimes. “They would take us around, sometimes take us grocery shopping. So they helped me adjust”
- Having necessities when she first arrived in the US:
“There was no way that I could have brought bedding with me on the plane, so I had to buy blankets and pillows and stuff…but a lot of people helped me. Like the lady that picked me up from the airport let me borrow her pillow, gave me a few blankets.”
- “Getting kicked out of dorms and having to find a place to stay”
Shan explained that seeing black people in Thailand is pretty rare. She would often hear about issues with racism in America, so she wanted to be very careful not to do anything that would offend others. Though she often interacted with Asians of all backgrounds and Caucasians, she was unfamiliar with race-conscious language relating to black individuals.Shan Shan had a surprise when she was assigned her roommate. “I was kind of scared because my roommate was black, and I didn’t know whether calling her ‘black’ was okay, I didn’t know if calling her ‘African American’ was okay. So I just asked her and she said that she likes ‘black’ over ‘African American’.”
What kind of culture shock did you experience coming to the States?
“I guess being able to talk with people… being able to talk with strangers and being able to have conversations with them. Because in Thailand, I don’t speak the language and stuff, so I don’t have conversations with people, like small talk and stuff like that. But coming here, people will talk with you….If you order food and stuff, you just talk with them!”
What advice do you have for TCKs as they transition into college in the States
- “Make friends, get to know people, and plan ahead…”
- Shan Shan explained that hadn’t been aware of how taxes worked here in the US, but she was lucky to have a friend who would help her do her taxes since the school didn’t offer any help.
- Another way to plan ahead is to make sure you know where to stay during breaks. “You need to know where you’re going to live. One plan might drop out, and you need to be ready.”
- Finally, Shan Shan recommends knowing how to speak to people. “Don’t talk about yourself too much. Because people are only willing to listen for so long. Because then you start to sound like you’re…I don’t know!…like you’re showing off. You know it’s like, “oh, I’m from India, but then I went to Thailand, and I traveled to Singapore, and then I visited South Korea” and then you sound, like, too…like you’re boasting because you’ve been to so many countries and they’ve never been on a plane, so…” Shan Shan told me that her intention is never to brag, but simply to share basic information about her life with others. However, such conversation can sound like boasting to someone who has not had cross-cultural experience.
How can people support TCKs and international students here in the States?
Shan’s first suggestion is for Universities: “Maybe,um, don’t kick us out of the university [during breaks and summer]? *laughs* I don’t know, like maybe give us options, not just kick us out, but like give us options.”
And to anyone else: “Be open minded, I guess… I think people think that they can’t relate with us [international students] and so they don’t bother trying to befriend us, I guess….All the international students are friends and we’ll barely have any other friends, I guess”
Shan Shan, thank you so much for sharing about your international student experience with us! If anyone has any further questions about Shan’s experience, feel free to ask questions in the comment section and I will be sure to pass them on!