International students cultivate education appreciation

Xiaoy Li, a Santa Monica College student from Hong Kong, has an idea of what she wants to do after college. “My dream is to open a school when I am done with my education,” says Li. “This school will have English and math classes and not focus on elite students, but also those who struggle with these subjects.”

This goal is just one among thousands of international students' dreams at SMC.

According to SMC's website, there are 3,100 international students at the school.

International students come from more than 100 countries, such as China, Korea and Sweden, which are the top three, according to Denise Kinsella, associate dean of international education.

There are currently 1,027 students enrolled from China, 631 from Korea and 483 students from Sweden, according to Kinsella.

All students, including international students, are required to take both the English and math placement tests. However, Swedish students are not required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language because SMC has noticed that students from Sweden meet the language requirements after completing their high school education, according to Kinsella.

"The TOEFL test measures the ability of non-native English speakers to use and understand the English language as it's read, written, heard and spoken in the university classroom," according to the TOEFL's official website.

The majority of the international students at SMC have to pay for their education out of pocket, except Swedish students, who receive funding from both grants and loans from their government. A Swedish student can receive up to $15,230 per semester. The amount is intended to cover tuition, according to the website Centrala Studiestödnämnden, which provides information regarding financial aid for Swedish students.

International students at SMC are not eligible for American student loans, says Kinsella.

“We do not have any government fundings,” says Hannah Chuang, an international student from China. “There may be funding programs in other states in China. The laws differ from state to state in China.”

There has been an increase of students from China in the last 10 years after the visa regulations loosened, enabling more students to study in the United States, return and use their education in their home country, says Kinsella.

“I was traveling in California for two months last summer and fell in love with Santa Monica,” says Frida Nilsson, an international student from Sweden.

YongJu Lee and Boseok Seo, students from Korea, both claim that not only did they choose Los Angeles based on the weather, but also because LA has the biggest Koreatown in the country.

However, Kinsella understands it can be difficult to adjust to the local culture.

“Although the culture is westernized in Hong Kong, I am still adjusting,” says Li. “One of the biggest differences is that the mentality is more focused on the individual. Where I come from, one listens more to what the elders say.”

Another obstacle that some international students may find is having to change their educational goals due to full classes.

“I did not get the classes that I wanted; instead I ended up taking psychology classes,” says Nilsson, who will return to Sweden to complete a degree in psychology. “Although things turned out differently than I had intended, I know now what I want to do with my life.”