“Sex and the City, the September 11th Attack, the Statue of Liberty, Broadway, Wall Street, the United Nations Headquarters, and Manhattan …..” These are various symbols in New York City. The city that never sleeps is New York!! Since the city is popular and has numerous qualifiers, a lot of people want to come to the city. But there is another reason it is preferred by students. This is because students not only can study English but also gain more opportunities to experience the culture which is regarded as the best in the world.
I also came to New York for both reasons (and going to Stony Brook State University in New York: SUNY). Specifically I came here for the Dual Degree Program. I will get two degrees from Dongguk University and SUNY. It seems like catching two birds with one stone. I can study English and, at the same time, focus on my major, business management. On the other hand, I feel a burden to be perfect in English, or at least to try and make no mistakes communicating with foreigners for the next two years. This is why I always strive to enhance my English skills and grasp any chance to use the English language. But whatever I do, and whenever I try something, I feel that it’s not easy to improve my English abilities although I am staying in ‘New York’. I realized that what I’m seeing and experiencing in New York is different from what I had expected in Korea. The reason why I decided to write a series of columns, on life in New York as an exchange student, is to show this reality here and to have students, who are coming to New York, be ready mentally and psychologically. (Generally, there are three kinds of Korean students; American born Koreans, the students studying abroad since middle, high school, or the 1st year of college, and exchange students. Here, let’s consider that exchange students include the students who came for the Dual Degree Program for the sake of convenience.)
Stony Brook University is located in Long Island in New York State. It has around 2,900 international students from about 100 countries. Surprisingly, among the 2,900 students, there are 612 Korean students, 21.1%. Whenever I hang around campus, I can hear Korean language easily. So, every student coming to SUNY has to expect to see lots of Koreans here. Especially, when the orientation for international students is held. Before starting the spring or fall semester, most of the new international students, including exchange students and transfer students, tend to make their own private groups within the first 5 days. In other words, students form groups with other students who have the same race or the same educational background. To be specific, Korean exchange students from the same university gather together and American born Koreans congregate in groups. This relationship is kept continuously. Actually, it’s general and common. (Of course, there are some exceptions but I want to focus on general situations.) I don’t want to blame this tendency. Meeting Koreans is good but when it comes to speaking English, it can have a negative effect since they usually tend to speak in Korean together. If students coming to SUNY want to develop their English skills, they shouldn’t hesitate to approach and talk to foreigners since the first orientation.
As I mentioned above, New York City, especially Manhattan, is really attractive for a majority of the students. The city is always crowded and full of people, including Korean students. In my case, I usually go to the city at least once a week. (The college is 60 miles away from New York City. It takes almost an hour to get to Manhattan by car.) Even there is a ‘Korean Town’ located on the 32nd Avenue. This is full of Korean signboards such as ‘Gamja-tang Restaurant, Chungmuro Restaurant, and some Korean banks’. Whenever I was standing on the street, it seemed like I was in Korea and I didn’t have to speak in English. With this simple example, I think it’s possible to say that the city is not a good place to learn English. Furthermore, the worst problem is that every place in New York City is bad for English because one can survive using simple English like ‘Thank you, Sorry, How much is it?, and Where is it?’.. But this is true and real. In a way, it can be said that New York is one of the worst cities to study English.
Because of these circumstances, most of the exchange students feel difficulties. Exchange students have to meet the requirements to get two degrees and this oppresses student’s minds and makes them get stressed. No matter what happens, they have to get good grades and develop English skills as soon as possible. I have also suffered from this pressure. To overcome this setback, what I found as a solution is that one should throw away shyness and shame. As many Korean people have the tendency not to put themselves forward, to be ashamed of making mistakes, and to consider about how others think too much; Korean students here commonly don’t approach foreigners first. Even if they catch a chance to make some foreigner friends, they are too self-conscious and careful. I think it makes them tired easily. I am sure that if we are waiting for something to happen here, nothing will actually happen to us. When we approach foreigners with a sincere mind, they will be willing to give us a hand even though our English is terrible and imperfect. But if we don’t try, we will be standing at the same position without any progression. The only way to be able to get through this difficulty is to give our full effort to make friends and achieve goals continuously without shame.
At SUNY, some Asians who just arrived are called F.O.Bs (Fresh of the Boat) It means they are not familiar with everything since the time when they just got here. Yes, we are novices. But I don’t want to be a shameful novice. What kind of a “FOP” we become totally depends upon us. There are still many opportunities that we can catch. The entire number of students in SUNY is 24,000 except the Korean students. In Manhattan, a lot of people sit in Starbucks with a cup of coffee alone. I want students who come to SUNY to be aware of this; if you want to be a successful student in New York, be shameless!! When you become shameless, over 20,000 students in SUNY and people who sit in Starbucks at Manhattan will be your friends. There are no teachers and no tutors but there are full of opportunities. Everything depends on yourself. I strongly suggest being unashamed and talkative FOBs!!
From now on, I will be looking forward to seeing brave FOBs here in Stony Brook State University in New York.
Nam Tae-wook firstname.lastname@example.org
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