Studying Abroad: Dory Keeps Swimming


Studying abroad in the US is a desirable dream for students from other countries because it helps students experience one of the best education systems in the world. According to Jeduka, the number of international students studying in the US in 2018 was 891,330 students. This number has increased significantly since then. A common misconception of international students is that they are very rich and that they live a frivolous lifestyle. However, those preconceived ideas are far from the truth about international students. International students are akin to Dory from Finding Nemo; they are innocent, optimistic, enthusiastic, and adventurous. On top of these qualities, they can also speak more than one language, and they frequently have to navigate through feelings of isolation. In order to make the most of studying abroad, these “Dories” band together, despite all of the difficulties that come with this experience, such as homesickness, language barriers, and tough academics. Even though the reality is harsh, these Dories are still swimming to achieve their goals in the big ocean of life.

1) Homesickness

Studying in a different country is hard for students for the first few months because compared to being able to rely on their family at home, they now have to take care of everything themselves. Juxtaposed to their lifestyle at home, they have to do the cooking, laundry, and other types of housework. Michael Duong, a Vietnamese student studying in Greenville, said, “With the support from my parents, I can do all the housework real fast. However, if you do it alone, it would be a disaster.” Although housework is not an incredibly difficult task, it can be much easier if a family does it together. However, when they are studying across the world, international students have to do everything by themselves without receiving help from their parents.

Media by Sang Nguyen Xuan.

Students sometimes thirst for their home-country food. “There are a couple of Vietnamese restaurants here in the U.S., but the taste sucks!” Duong added. Besides the different tastes, the prices are also prohibitively more expensive. A bowl of Phở in Vietnam costs 35,000 to 60,000 VND (around $2-3), but in the US, it rises to $13-15 per bowl.

Moreover, international students might miss several important ceremonies at home, such as weddings, birthday parties, a baby full month celebration, etc. Being absent for these big milestones can really make international students miss home.

2) Language Barrier

English is not the native language for most international students. To study in the U.S., international students must have English certificates to prove their English proficiency. Even though they have those certificates, they still have problems making conversations in various settings, especially when it comes to their academic lives. For instance, Americans use slang in their daily conversation, which confuses international students. Plus, English slang terms are generally not on the syllabi. Schools focus mainly on basic grammar and writing in general. International students might struggle with speaking for the few first weeks – or even months – in the U.S., which can be frustrating. Another noteworthy issue are accents. International students are familiar with the formal English in their school. For that reason, they can be confused when they make conversation with Americans, especially when they have outstanding accents. 

There is a super fun fact that only international students know. Sophia, a Spanish student studying biology at Greenville University, confessed, “Sometimes, in class, you cannot understand why other people laugh, I mean, what was so funny?” Agreeing with Sophia, Japanese student Tohma added, “It’s hard to understand their stories; I’m in a different world.”

3) Academic Experience

Different countries provide different academic experiences. This viewpoint crucially explains why international students choose the U.S. as their top destination for a new academic experience. The American education system focuses on activities and a balance of both curriculum and social skills. American students are assigned to do projects, presentations, and activities, but in some Asian educational systems, there is more emphasis on theories and assignments. For instance, international students at Greenville University volunteered at the Marcoot Jersey Creamery’s event. “We had so much fun working at the Fall Fest at Marcoot Creamery,” says Yamoto, a Japanese student majoring in music at Greenville University. “This is the first time I worked at a food station and provided food for guests.” Yamoto thinks that it is incredible for international students to work with other Americans. “It is also a good way for us to improve English”, he added.

Media by Sang Nguyen Xuan.

Studying in the US is not only about studying. It is about experiencing, especially for international students. Blaire, who is a Chinese student, traveled from far away to be in the U.S., and she went as far as to say, “It is my perfect choice.” Blaire also confessed that sometimes she feels “tired” because of all the activities that take place on campus. She wishes she had more time to participate in more of these extracurriculars.

Going through such harsh obstacles turns international students into fragile and emotional people. Because they tend to have these hardships in common, international students tend to support one another, forming a “Dory” bunch. They go through everything together. However, these Dories do desire to have Martins and Nemos as companions. It would be amazing if Americans or domestic students made a special effort to befriend as well as support international students inside and outside of the academic environment. This friendship with American students would most likely help international students feel less lonely. Dories believe that with the help of American students, they will have great academic experiences at school.


  1. Totally agree with you!
    Staying away from home is the worst part. We sometimes miss important events 🥺 Sometimes our family needs us but we cannot come back.

  2. Written from real experience. Everything starts with a choice. Quality learning can be achieved or attained (from) anywhere. Just make the most out of it for your best development.

  3. I love the analogy. The comparison between international students and Dory is incredible. I hope they keep swimming as Dory did. At the end of the day, they will be successful with their dreams.
    Congratulations Sang, keep up your good work!

  4. As an international student in Missouri, I understand what you discussed. I struggled a lot when I first came to the US. My American friends helped me a lot, and I feel grateful. I think international students should have at least 1 American friend. I can guarantee they would support you a lot

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