As expected, life for an international student can be challenging. For some international students, life is challenging in more ways than one. International students are expected to adapt to a new country, different cuisine and South Africa’s different languages. This can be a huge culture shock.

According to Afra Yousif Hussein Khairalla, a Nerina second-year student from Saudi Arabia, living in res was difficult for her at first: “I did not understand the HK, they spoke as if they were speaking to the South Africans only.” Khairalla could not understand any of the Nguni languages and her English was weak so she struggled to make friends.

 Cynthia Ibale, a resident in Jasmyn who is from Uganda said, “I got annoyed in my first year when people spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand. People keep forgetting that not everyone is from South Africa.”

According to Kendi Mwabila, international students and relations member of the SRC, there are between 4 000 to 6 000 international students on campus. Most of them fail their first year because of the language barrier.

Not only is language a huge shift in culture, but the different res traditions also add to the culture shock. Such as the famous sokkie dance that is held at most of the male residences. This dance style not only makes one feel like they are burning calories on the dance floor, but also leaves you disorientated. “I liked the sokkie dance and the Maroela guys were great with the sokkie,” said Jemma Wicks, a first-year from Zimbabwe.

Unlike most of the students in res who can go home during varsity holidays, international students have to stay behind in res because they don’t have much of a choice. “You feel bad when everyone talks about going home, but you cry and get over it,” said Ibale. Ibale only goes home during the June and December holidays.

Valerie Mvere, a second-year Nerina resident, said, “I usually apply for holiday accommodation and it is annoying because you have to repack all your belongings. It is so inconvenient.”

All international students occasionally have to move to other residences. This happens because it’s easier to keep the few students in one residence where they can be kept safe. The university also uses some of the residencs to host students who attend educational programmes on campus during breaks. So it’s just another process of packing and unpacking and then packing again. “It’s quite stressful to move to another res during holidays,” said Ibale. But even with the tears of being home sick and the fear of being far away from home, Ibale encourages all international students to embrace the experience of being in a different country.

There are associations on campus such as the University of Pretoria International Students’ Association (UPI) that offer support to international students. Mwabila explained that UPI is a socially driven association for international students. “UPI is a forum for international students to interact; it is an umbrella for different societies,” said Mwabila. She added that UPI organises social events like free braais and trips to Menlyn for international students (South Africans are more than welcome to attend).

When asked what can be done in res to make international students feel more at home, Ibale stated that students in res, especially HKs, should try to create a friendly, homey environment for those who are not from South African. “I’m not asking for special treatment, but they should understand that we come from far, especially the first years who are probably scared,” said Ibale.

“People should stop being condescending towards international students,” said Wicks.

So the next time you come across an international student, try to be understanding. You may provinces away from home but they are countries away from theirs.


Image: Gustav Reyneke

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