It’s with bittersweet feelings that a group of international exchange students will soon leave Brunswick and return home.
On the one hand, they’ll miss the temporary home they’ve made here in the Golden Isles the past several months, studying at the College of Coastal Georgia and exploring the area and its culture. But on the other hand, they’re returning to their families and bringing home a new set of skills they’ve gained during their time studying abroad, including a new sense of independence and a familiarity with the American Southern accent.
Six international exchange students have studied at Coastal Georgia this past semester and lived on campus. Three students from Pakistan will return home this week, while three others from Tunisia will continue to study at Coastal Georgia until May.
The students came to the United States through exchange programs offered in their countries. They went through competitive application and interview processes before they were selected to participate in the programs.
Saman Khawaja, from Pakistan, said she applied to the program hoping for an exciting new experience.
“It was a different experience, studying in another country,” she said. “And not only studying, but exploring the culture, traveling around and visiting different places, especially in a country that is well known all over the world … It was so appealing, when I heard about this, I was like ‘Yes, I am going to America.’”
Students in the programs were placed in colleges and universities across the United States.
Ramish Moosa, from Pakistan, said she hoped to see how the American educational system differed from the system at home.
“My field is psychology, so I wanted to see how people take the subject here, because it’s different in Pakistan,” she said.
Students and teachers have a more relaxed relationship in America, she said.
“It’s easier here,” Moosa said. “Even my grades are improved here.”
Insaf Marzouki, from Tunisia, said she wishes there were more emphasis across the board in American education on international studies.
“The differences I see is the American education system, so far, is only focused on America,” she said.
Jim Lynch, director of institutional effectiveness and interim director of international education at the college, said the international students were able to provide an education for the American students on campus as well.
“Ahmed, Ahsan, Insaf, Malek, Saman and Ramish have brought diverse perspectives and innovative ideas to our campus community, as well as opportunities for intercultural learning in ways more personal and engaging than any book or visual presentation could convey,” Lynch said in a statement. “These connections have precipitated a sensitivity to and appreciation of cultural difference with increased global-mindedness.”
The exchange students have made sure to see more than just Glynn County during their stay in the U.S. They’ve traveled across the country on weekend trips to New York City, Chicago, Niagara Falls, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles and more.
But, Khawaja said, she feels she experienced the true culture of America here in a small city in Georgia.
“There are not so many things to do,” she said. “But this place is peaceful and it’s beautiful, especially the islands that are connected … It’s a fact that if you want to experience the real culture of America, you can see it in small cities, not the big cities.”
Their stay has not been without its challenges, though. The lack of local public transportation created a significant barrier to the students’ abilities to explore the area.
“I want to explore the place where I was suppose to explore, the place where I was placed, but I couldn’t do this because there is no way,” Moosa said. “We have to use Uber and Lyft, which is expensive, and there’s no public transport. That’s the only issue I have.”
They also had to overcome some language barriers, but the students said that challenge was quickly managed.
“The first days, I was struggling to even say ‘Hi,’ to people because, I don’t know, it was awkward,” said Ahmed Jerbi, an exchange student from Tunisia. “Then you get used to it, and it’s worth the struggle.”
Marzouki said she learned formal English in school back home. Southern accents, though, had to be learned when she arrived.
“I learned the Southern accent. I’m getting better,” she said, laughing. “I’m not really 100 percent good at it, but I’m getting better.”
Khawaja said she’s happy yet sad to return home. She isn’t sure when she’ll get to return to America.
But she said she’s coming home feeling more independent and courageous, thanks to her experience studying abroad.
“For me, I never lived alone anywhere. I was always with my family,” she said. “ … So when I came here, I was all alone in my room, and I was like ‘How do I manage everything on my own?’ … It made me more bold.”
Moosa said she enjoyed her time here.
“I’m a little bit sad to because I’m leaving America,” she said. “But it was a great experience.”