February 2023

An Interview Series - International Students and U.S. Immigrants teaser image

An Interview Series - International Students and U.S. Immigrants

Abigail Graves


All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. – Martin Buber.

Leaving home – whether it is a house, a people, or a country – is always a daunting task that requires immense courage and resolve, but it is also the first chance at a new opportunity full of hope and promise, the first step of a unique journey with an unknown destination. The path of the international student is one that many have taken before and that many will continue to take. As new students from all corners of the world start their time at Texas A&M University, several former international students and United States immigrants have generously offered up their stories and their guidance to help those who may feel lost, overwhelmed, or frightened. From cautions of unforeseen hardships to assurances of pleasant surprises, we hope these interviews can offer peace, encouragement, and strength to those feeling a little far from home.
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Name: Ammarah Junaid
Place of Birth: Aligarh, India (1998)
Education: B.S. Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University (2021); M. Eng. Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University (2022)
Occupation: Process Engineering Associate I

1. Why did you decide to attend school in the United States?
We were living in Dubai, and my parents had this overarching goal of getting me and my brothers settled in the U.S. Back in Dubai, they don’t really grant people citizenship, and not being a citizen of somewhere is a very tough burden; you don’t really get to belong anywhere, which is how I’ve always felt. So, for us, it would be great if we could live in America and be granted citizenship.

Also, the education system here is among the best in the world, and that’s really what mattered. So, my parents really invested in all our futures and sent me ahead, as the oldest, to establish that pipeline because we all do want to get settled here. People gain rights here that no other country really can offer, offering the sort of lifestyle and educational background that rivals a lot of other places.

2. What is your favorite part about the United States?
Coming from the background that I did, I love the freedom and opportunity America provides. I come from a very sheltered place. We couldn’t really get part-time jobs; we couldn’t really get those core experiences that give people independence like a lot of our western counterparts offer, but I was able to get that here with no previous experience.

I used to work for the stock rooms at A&M, and I just walked up one day, saw that they needed help, and got the job with no references or background information. I love that people are able to find opportunities like that in every nook and cranny that eventually help them make connections that bolster their credentials. It’s the land of opportunity. Someone can find their way to doing what they want eventually, and that has granted me a lot of freedom that I wouldn’t necessarily have back home.

3. What is you least favorite part about the United States?
I would say individualism/an individualistic culture is my least favorite part of living in America. I come from a background where it’s not necessarily imposed on someone to help somebody else, but it is a given. Having a community nearby and giving and getting help is very much part and parcel of being a part of those communities and cultures. But when people come here, they have to be hyper aware that they’re not imposing themselves on someone else. There’s a line that we can’t necessarily see that people sometimes think we’ve crossed when we ask for help or for some of their time. There are people who sort of put themselves ahead of everybody else, which is fine and fair as their number one priority should be themselves, but there’s a way of going about it where they can still be an active part of the community.

4. What do you miss most from your home/home country?
I grew up Muslim, so there’s an overarching culture all around that can often be taken for granted until it’s not available in abundance – mosque on every corner, food I can eat whenever I want. That’s the sort of atmosphere I really miss, but I have been able to find a little piece of that with the extended family I have nearby.

5. What are some keepsakes you have or activities you do that help with homesickness or help you feel
more at home?

I have extended family here that have been here for 20+ years, so they’ve been able to give me that feeling of home when it comes to religious events and food. They were the ones who gave me food the first few years of college. I would go back every weekend, and they would give me a big freezer bag full of food with enough to even share with my friends, like what my mom would do. I remember my mom came by the second week of school when Hurricane Harvey hit, and she stuffed my little dorm mini fridge to the brim with food. She took the time to make it at my aunt’s house to make sure I had enough to tide me over. I told her I couldn’t eat that much, but she said it was for in case I made any friends. Additionally, I was a part of the international student organization, and they really helped because they understand that the gap between home and here is so big. They do a lot of great programs to help international students feel at home, and they were the only thing that kept me sane at first. So, if someone was to find the right people and make those connections, that could be a really great experience. It sort of outweighs being so far away from home and being alone.

6. What advice do you have for incoming international students?
The homesickness is going to go away. It seems all encompassing especially at somewhere like A&M. I didn’t have a chance to go to Fish Camp, and I didn’t get to tour campus. So, I know it may seem really daunting to come into such a tight-knit culture such as A&M where there’s Aggie pride and there are people who have generations of Aggies in their family, but the homesickness is going to go away.

Additionally, don’t try to phase out where you’re coming from to be a part of where you are. You have to retain the best of both cultures. Don’t try immediately to throw yourself into becoming something that you’re not. Try to keep all of the good parts about yourself that you had before you came to college, and then use these new experiences to become the best of both worlds. I think that’s really the way of keeping sane throughout college.

Also, there’s a need for everything, and there’s people for everything. Talk to people. They’re not as scary as they seem. Don’t be afraid to make friends, and you’re going to be just fine. As somebody who made it through the Covid semesters when the borders were shut down, we international students were isolated. It’s the communities that we were in and the people that we were friends with that helped us on our feet during that very difficult time. And lastly, remember that everybody is turning over a new leaf, so if there are people who aren’t giving you the time of day, don’t take it personally.
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Name: Yu Liang
Place of Birth: Harbin, China (1970)
Education: B.S. Mechanical Engineering, Yan Shan University (1992); M. S. Electrical Engineering,
Louisiana Tech; PhD Engineering, Louisiana Tech (2005)
Occupation: Process Engineer

1. Why did you decide to attend school in the United States?
This country can give me a better future. I moved here for the better opportunities. I got my undergraduate degree in China for the cheaper tuition because I couldn’t afford to come to school here yet. The education system for K-12 in America is not better than in China, but college and above is much better.

2. What is your favorite part about the United States?
My favorite part is the American people and culture. Americans are very nice and generous, but that also makes them easy to take advantage of. Everybody in China is a cunning tactician who doesn’t trust anybody. China is very crowded, so people develop skills to help them get ahead and are suspicious that everyone else is taking advantage of them. I also love the weather here, and I can never get too hot.

3. What is you least favorite part about the United States?
Americans are too wasteful. They waste food, clothes, and have a poor recycle system. From the top- down, Americans don’t have a reserve mentality, even with money.

4. What do you miss most from your home/home country?
Americans drive everywhere, but in China, it’s very dense. We all live in little unit apartments, so people interaction is a lot more. I miss walking to the market and seeing everybody. We can walk out of our apartments and say “hi” to our neighbors, and we also spend more time with family. Sometimes, three families can live under one roof. Americans are very lonely. They are too rich and live very isolated lives.

5. What are some keepsakes you have or activities you do that help with homesickness or help you feel
more at home?

I enjoy cooking and eating Chinese food. I miss the food from China, too.

6. What advice do you have for incoming international students?
Be yourself. Some people come here and see all the blonde hair and blue eyes, but do not lose your own nationality. You’re unique. Also, when new students come here, homesickness can be very strong, but it will pass.
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Name: Susana P.
Place of Birth: Marikina, Philippines (1974)
Education: B. S. Agricultural Engineering, University of the Philippines (1996); M. S. Agricultural Engineering, University of the Philippines (2002); PhD Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Kansas State University (2008)
Occupation: Water Project Engineer

1. Why did you decide to attend school in the United States?
There was a professor from the Philippines, and he was looking for a graduate student from the Philippines to work on one of his projects. At that time, I was working at the University of the Philippines as a researcher, so I applied and got accepted.

2. What is your favorite part about the United States?
It’s a good system. I like that there’s a system/government at every level from city to county to state. There are regulations being implemented here. In the Philippines, where I’m from, there’s regulations, but they are hard to implement. It’s not perfect here, but it’s something I like about America.

I also really like the people I have met here. I have met many kind and helpful Americans since moving here.

3. What is you least favorite part about the United States?
My least favorite thing is the allergies. Also, people complain. Like I tell my children, “Your problems are first-world problems. I’ve seen more difficult and worse situations than what you are complaining about.” So, with the standard I have, whenever I hear people complaining I’m like, “Ah, that’s nothing.” I feel like those things compared to what I’ve seen… I’ve seen worse. I understand that here in America, I can’t complain. People need to see what is out there because Americans are so blessed. For others who are poorer, the problem is where they are going to get their food not other trivial things.

4. What do you miss most from your home/home country?
In the Philippines, you know your neighbors. Growing up, I could just go out in the street and play with kids and talk to neighbors. They are just there; they are just available. Also, with the community, we know each other. There are smaller stores, and it is just a smaller community. It’s also easier to reach people; you don’t need an appointment. Here, if you try to go to someone’s house, it’s strange, but in the Philippines, you can go and talk to people and knock on doors.

When somebody is sick here, you cannot just come and visit. You need to ask first. I understand that with what is happening now you don’t want to give your illness to other people, but I miss being able to visit sick people and bring them food without an appointment.

5. What are some keepsakes you have or activities you do that help with homesickness or help you feel
more at home?

I like Facebook, and I like posting pictures so that my relatives and friends back home can see my family and how we are doing. And, on the flipside, I can see how they’re doing. I can see my previous classmates from high school and college, and that keeps the homesickness away.

My mother also stays with me and my family, so that helps. And, I have a group of women, a Bible study group. The women are all from the Philippines, and once a week gather and talk and study. I also have Filipino friends and a Filipino community that helps.

6. What advice do you have for incoming international students?

International students come from different countries and have different backgrounds, so I cannot say what is for you or not. But, based on my experience, just reach out and seek help if you need it. Talk to the advisors and listen to the advisors.

In my case, I had a Philippine student organization, so there are always student organizations that will help because they’ve been through experiences they can share. I think it’s good to be open to learning from others. There’s plenty of support that can be used, especially if you need help with the English language. If you’re writing a dissertation, start section by section, and always be in communication with your advisors along the way. That should help you finish easier rather than being overwhelmed.

Don’t let the fear of a professor stop you from talking to them. They may just be driving you really hard, but you just keep on pushing. Even if they get mad at you or scold you, they’re just pushing hard. And, if you can find a person or a group who can push you or encourage you, that’s good, and you should join a group that does that.

Remember that when you first start graduate school, it can be overwhelming. It can be hard at Christmas time, but there are churches and different organizations that invite international students and are good to join. There may be a language barrier, but most Americans want to share their culture and see what they can do to help.
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Name: Peyam K.
Place of Birth: Isfahan, Iran (1977)
Education: B. S. Mechanical Engineering, Ryerson University (2005); M. S. Mechanical Engineering, Ryerson University (2008)
Occupation: Process-Mechanical Engineer

1. Why did you immigrate to the United States?
My parents immigrated from Iran as fugitives of the war going on there and went to Germany when I was 10 and then migrated to Canada when I was 16. I then moved from Canada to here for the weather and taxes, but my number one reason for relocating is that the U.S. has many more opportunities than Canada. I was not able to find a job in Canada.

2. What is your favorite part about the United States?
It’s a great country. Compared to Canada, everything here is lower cost due to the higher population and higher cash flow in this country. For example, it’s cheaper to travel here because there’s a lot of vacation spots. It’s a big country, so a person can travel from Yellowstone to Florida to Hawaii all in one country. They don’t need to visit any other country.

Also, the culture is great, and the economy is great. It’s one of the best countries in the world. Here, everybody minds their own business as well. In Canada, people are more aggressive, and everybody wants to fight, but nobody wants to get into a physical fight here. So, there’s a sort of freedom in every aspect. Nobody cares about the way others dress. In Europe, people have to follow the style, but here, people wear whatever they want to wear. People mind their own business, and a person can do whatever they want to do.

3. What is you least favorite part about the United States?
I have some least favorite parts about immigration and the problems with immigration. I was living in Canada for a long time, but when I moved here, I lost all my connections. People build a network once they graduate, and they know many people from high school going back to primary school. Once someone starts a new life here, they have nobody, and they have nothing. They kind of need to build their foundation over again, and building roots in this country takes time. It’s not that they have zero connections, but it is much, much less.

One thing I don’t like about the country is the healthcare system compared to other countries. If someone is out of work, they don’t have any coverage. Sometimes, if somebody has cancer, they won’t get treated if it’s not an emergency. And another issue is that congress has no term limit.

4. What do you miss most from your home/home country?
What I miss the most from my childhood is the environment. Where we lived in Iran had four seasons, so I liked that. Also, wherever someone lives, they always make some memories, so they always miss those. Wherever somebody grows up, they have those places they used to visit with friends, so they miss those places.

5. What are some keepsakes you have or activities you do that help with homesickness or help you feel
more at home?

It doesn’t really apply to me much because there’s not much difference between here and Canada. If I’m missing something, it’s easy to travel back. But, what I do is remember those cheap restaurants with food I liked from back when we had had no money, and I try to make those recipes. I try to make the recipes and breads of places I liked. Like chicken fried… I go and try all the chicken fried looking for the one kind that I really liked. Every restaurant has a different taste, so if I can’t find the food here, I cook it.

6. What advice do you have for incoming international students?
One of the hardest parts of this country is immigration. For me, it wasn’t a big deal because I could work here, but most people haven’t had the luck that I had. Immigration is a big deal, so wherever you’re going, it’s easy to get lost. It’s also important to pick the right city because wherever you settle down, you are more than likely going to stay there for a long time. For example, in Austin it’s easy to move from one job to another as engineer, but in College Station, there’s only so many places to work. The big cities have lots of opportunities to move around and switch jobs. If you decide to stay here, you need to plant roots, and the big cities have lots of opportunities to make your life stable.
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Name: Jesus Gonzales
Place of Birth: Pachuca, Hidalgo (1988)
Education: A. S. Drafting and Design, Lee College (2012)
Occupation: Drafter/Designer

1. Why did you immigrate to the United States?
I moved here because my parents brought me. They were looking for new opportunities. Prior to us coming here, my dad had already been here for fifteen years, so he was able to get green cards for all of us. He was here because he had a better job here than in Mexico, and he wanted to take all of us with him to live with him.

2. What is your favorite part about the United States?
I think there’s better job opportunity. In my career, my job is not typical in Mexico. In reality, there’s not a whole lot of schools that teach my profession in Mexico. It is very hard to get into one of those schools, so I would say it is easier to get a lot of education opportunities here. Also, even if somebody were to get a job in Mexico, it would not be very well paid.

Another thing that I like about here is the culture, at least here in Texas. It feels like people are more welcome to creating a good space for the people who come from different places. I think that has also gotten a whole lot better as the years go by because I wouldn’t say the same thing for when I first came here.

3. What is you least favorite part about the United States?
My least favorite part is the food. The reason why is because, so far, I have not found a true Mexican restaurant. People see Mexican restaurants all over the place, but they all have at least some hint of Tex-Mex, so I would not consider them true Mexican restaurants. Even in Mexico, the food from where I am from is different from the food in northern Mexico that is already influenced by Tex-Mex. That’s why when I go to Mexico, the first thing we try is actual tacos. Even the meat… there’s a bunch of different things they put on it that are not available here, and there’s also several other things that I wish I could find but aren’t made here in the U.S.

4. What do you miss most from your home/home country?
I miss the food the most, but I also miss the environment. In Mexico, we don’t live in big cities; we live in settings where there’s nature and mountains, where if someone goes outside, there’s fresh air and the environment is more natural with rivers and trees within 20 minutes of home. What’s kind of crazy is what I miss the most is something I didn’t realize at first. When somebody moves to the city for a few years and then moves back, they realize that it’s so much nicer. There’s no traffic. There’s nothing to stress them out as much as here.

I also miss family. I have cousins, uncles, and family in general in Mexico, and that’s the most important thing I miss.

5. What are some keepsakes you have or activities you do that help with homesickness or help you feel
more at home?

Every time I travel to Mexico, I’ll usually bring something from there to remind me of that place. For example, I brought the little chess set that is in my office from Mexico. Additionally, even though the restaurants may not be truly Mexican, we still like to go to them when we eat out. Also, every now and then, we’ll have family get-togethers. People will bring traditional Mexican food like tamales and mole as well as a whole lot of different kinds of food. Every now and then, we’ll gather in the park with our neighbors who live here but are also from where we are from in Mexico, and we will talk and chat and see how everybody is doing.

6. What advice do you have for incoming international students?
First, learn to tolerate people because you are going to find a lot of people from different cultures. Second, learn the language if you can. It’s always helpful to know as much as you can because, if not, it can be really tough. I say that from experience. Third, be open-minded. For example, I come from a tiny town of three hundred people, so for me, it was a big deal moving to a city of 60,000 people. I went from a small school where everybody knew each other to a larger school where I knew nobody. So, learn about where you’re going to move to, and if you don’t like it, prepare for big change. Lastly, it is important to not get discouraged if you find mean and nasty people. When you come to a different town, it can hurt you to be in a foreign place where you don’t know the language because some people treat you in a nasty way. But, just don’t get discouraged when you find people like that.

About the Author

image of author Abigail Graves

Abigail Graves

Originally from small beer-town Shiner, TX, Abigail is currently a master’s student in Chemical Engineering with an emphasis in water resources. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M, yet chemistry is still her least favorite science. She works fulltime at an engineering consulting firm specializing in wastewater treatment plant design. She is married, has five dogs and loves anything nerdy, but will break some ankles on the basketball court if needed.

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