Sometimes mistaken for sisters on Auburn University at Montgomery’s campus, Xiniyi Xiao and Xiaobei Cao are growing a strong supportive friendship even as they develop the independence that comes from facing the challenges of living and studying half-way around the globe.
In August 2016, 56 international students from Hubei University of Economics in Hubei Province, China, arrived at AUM to complete their final year of college coursework. Jane and Cynthia (American names they chose on arrival to the United States) were among this group and already fast friends. The girls were raised in families where studying abroad is valued as an opportunity. Their parents were familiar with the University of Hubei Economics’ program partnership with AUM and encouraged their daughters to attend Hubei University in order to gain the additional benefit of studying in the United States.
Jane and Cynthia studied hard for high marks in China, and nothing has changed at AUM. They continue to work hard toward their goals. They do find, however, that some aspects of college in the United States necessitate a certain level of self-reliance. In China, professors provided regular reminders for upcoming deadlines, but Jane has found that her AUM professors expect students to keep up with assignments, dates, and deadlines without constant reminders. To help plan her coursework, Jane now uses organizational techniques learned from American classmates.
It is not unusual to see Jane outside running early in the morning or to bump into Cynthia at the Wellness Center. Cynthia especially has embraced the challenge of taking responsibility for her own health while at AUM. In China, she often felt sick or ill. She counted on her parents to help find medical care through their many connections with the Chinese community. Since living in the United States, Cynthia has learned several things about taking care of herself. She has learned not to tell her parents, who live so far away, about every medical problem she encounters, and she has learned to make her own medical appointments with medical providers. Moreover, since being at AUM, she has chosen to live a proactively healthy lifestyle to avoid having to see medical professionals so often.
What advice do Jane and Cynthia offer to international students planning to study at AUM? Both girls strongly believe it is important to know English well before arriving to AUM. They are both fluent in English and have successfully navigated through their coursework. They also note that international students with a stronger command of English make friends more easily with their English-speaking peers than those struggling to master English.
Jane and Cynthia live on campus and often eat American food in the campus food court, but it took a while for them to acquire a taste for American food. The two girls wish they could prepare all the delicious home cooked dishes their mothers cooked back in China. Their second piece of advice would be that international students learn to cook their favorite cuisine before leaving home. At AUM, during American holidays, the food court is closed, so knowing how to cook in the kitchens in the residence halls is essential.
Being fashionable young women, Jane and Cynthia did not want to arrive at AUM without all the latest fashions and accessories. However, after living on campus for a full semester, their advice to incoming internationals would be to pack light. They feel that the Montgomery climate is mild. They also enjoy supplementing their wardrobes with free T-shirts provided by AUM.
One final piece of advice Jane and Cynthia would offer is to balance social activities with academic studies. The girls are involved with the International Student Association, and they attend campus events such as international coffee hours, international game nights, and various holiday parties. Through the ISA, they have made friends with AUM peers who are not part of the Chinese Cohort from Hubei. Having a diverse network of friends lets the girls connect with AUM students who have cars. This allows the girls to travel off campus for a little fun on the town.
It is six months until Jane and Cynthia return to China. They both say the first thing they will do when they arrive back home will be to sit down with family to enjoy a meal prepared by their mothers. In the meantime, they continue to learn and grow from the unique opportunities they encounter while studying and living in the United States.
Story by Julie Berube
Photo by Emily Shimaz
Jane and Cynthia will graduate from AUM in August 2017.