Foreign student finds second home
International students face many new changes and challenges in the transition from home to school in a new country.
Lucia Okaro, 20, came from Nigeria at age 18 to UALR to study Management Information Systems. After graduating high school at 15, her parents decided she was too young to start college, so she started schooling at ‘Kenya for A-levels,’ a pre-college program for students who hope to study in the United Kingdom.
“My parents wanted to give me time to mature, which the program offered,” Okara said.
When her parents told her she would instead be coming to UALR, she waged a ‘strike’ against them, to no avail.
“I have two brothers at UALR, so my parents sent me over here to be with them,” she said. “My parents said they would not have peace of mind knowing that I was [in the UK] all alone.”
Slowly but surely, Okaro has come to admire UALR.
“I ended up coming to UALR in the spring of 2010. I wasted most of that year sulking about not being in United Kingdom. It’s been two years since I came here and I am learning to love UALR,” Okaro said. “I have worked at the Ottenheimer Library and currently work at the Office of Development with an amazing group of people. I have gotten involved on campus, met some really interesting people and learned to be independent,” she said.
Okaro’s parents still live in Nigeria, and the only time the Okaro siblings see them is during winter break and summer break, even though they attend summer session. To keep in touch, they also Skype as much as possible, and talk on the phone twice a week.
“The hardest thing about being an international student is being away from my friends and family from back home. It helps that I have my brothers,” Okaro said.
Culturally things in the U.S. are different for Okaro too. She said she was astounded by the teenage pregnancy rates in America.
“I could not believe I had classes with 18-year-olds who had 4-year-old daughters,” she said.
Another culture shock for her was that people move out of their parents’ homes. “Just because they were grown; I don’t get why you leave a place that was rent free to spend about $500 a month on rent and groceries just so you won’t have a curfew.”
Bullying and the suicide rates also surprised Okaro. “I believe in treating others the same way you want to be treated. It breaks my heart when I hear about teenagers committing suicide because they were bullied because they were different. I was raised to appreciate and try and understand the differences among people, not make fun of them,” she said.
Stereotyping is something that Okaro faces regularly. “I have had people walk to me and ask ‘is this the first time you have had a phone since you left Africa?’ I tend to be as polite as I can when answering such questions because I know most of them are asked genuinely out of curiosity. As for the others that are not so curious, I tend to respond in the same way the question was asked,” Okaro said.
Although Okaro faces some negativity, she has found a few new passions. She’s a self-proclaimed “CSI” junkie.
“I also love to travel, I plan to go somewhere new every summer. Before I graduate from UALR, I hope to have visited every state in America,” she said.
To Okaro, America is full of opportunities. “To the international student I say, take advantage of [being here]. Attend campus activities like orientation week, Concourse Crash [hosted by UPC], participate in international student week. These are all ways to network and meet new people, and trust me, it will make it easier to be away from home,” she said.
Overall, Okaro said she is happy with her life at UALR, and wishes she had gotten into the Trojan spirit when she first arrived, instead of now. According to her, UALR is the perfect balance between fun and education.
“Although UALR is not the college experience I had in mind, it challenges you to create your own experience,” Okaro said.