“I learned how to be open and gain confidence, now I am able to express myself freely and I know what I want,” said senior communication major and international student Kotone Kurokawa. 

Kurokawa, who came to Joplin from Tokyo, is one of many international students Missouri Southern welcomes from all over the world every year. Just last semester, Southern hosted 213 students from 48 different countries, according to the Office of International Student Services. While studying in a new country can lead to personal growth, Kotone said there are several challenges and rewards that come with being an international student. 

 First impressions 

“I arrived from Japan during the winter break, the weather was gloomy and cold. There were very few people around the campus,” said Kurokawa.  

When she arrived in Joplin, Kurokawa said she found the area to be small and more rural, especially in comparison to Toyko. According to Kurokawa, Tokyo is a massive city that is very busy; compared to Joplin, where residents are more relaxed, the people of Tokyo are constantly in a rush.

Conversely, Iva Petrusova, a junior political science major, came to Joplin from the Czech Republic. According to Iva, studying abroad was an opportunity to acquire new experiences in education, social life, and culture. 

“I was very impressed by the college, the campus looked huge from the car window,” said Petrusova. Furthermore, Petrusova said that arriving in Joplin felt like something in a movie; she felt like she was living the American dream. 

Kurokawa said that her best impression of Joplin and Missouri Southern was how friendly everyone was. 

“From the beginning, I was happy to discover that people are very welcoming, nice and open here. They helped me a lot at the beginning,” said Kurokawa. 

Kurokawa said her study abroad experience will result in lifetime friendships. 

“It’s easy to make friends in the United States, because everyone smile and say hi to you in the streets,” said Kurokawa. 

Education differences 

Kurokawa and Petrusova said a noticeable difference between their home countries and studying in the United States is the educational system. 

For Kurokawa, the biggest cultural shock was the free expression of opinion, especially in class.  “In Japan, people are afraid to tell their opinions and how they feel because they don’t want to hurt people, however, everyone here talks and give their own arguments in class,” said Kurokawa. 

Kurokawa said this difference between the education systems in the U.S. and Japan has been overwhelming, since she is not used to having many people talking all the time and saying what is going through their minds.

For Petrusova, the difference between school systems in the Czech Republic and the U.S. is the method of assessment. 

“This system reminds me more of our high schools, with a lot of homework and tests. At the University [in Czech Republic] we just study on our own and have finals at the end,” said Petrusova. 

Petrusova said she was also surprised to discover a lack of knowledge about European culture and geography among people in the United States. 

“People always ask me where I am from, but as soon as I tell them they have no idea where is it. Once I got a comment from a student that said that China was in Europe,” said Petrusova.

Petrusova said that she thinks Europeans, especially people from Czech Republic, have a greater knowledge of the rest of the world, and wishes the American education system could be more cosmopolitan. 

Cultural adjustment  

According to exchange students like Kurokawa and Petrusova, first impressions are not always accurate. After a few weeks of adjusting to the culture of the Midwestern United States, Kurokawa and Petrusova said they were able to establish a certain routine and form new perspectives.

 “I feel very peaceful, because there are not too many people like in Japan, and I feel safe and comfortable,” said Korokawa.

Kurokawa said that she misses her family and friends, and that she can feel homesick at times. However, she is able to talk to them regularly, and that her occasional homesickness doesn’t affect her overall experience as an international student at Missouri Southern. 

For Petrusova, a big adjustment for her as an international student has been not having a car to get around Joplin. Petrusova said at times she feels like a “hamster in a cage,” because she can’t go wherever she wants, whenever she wants. 

“I am so used to go hang out with my friends after school, and be always independent,” Petrusova said. 

While she has had limited mobility during her time in Joplin, Petrusova said she has found a lot of activities on campus, particularly at the recreation center. 

“I feel fine now, but sometimes I can feel trapped here, which makes me want to go home,” said Petrusova.

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