Oztok: Being an international student in the US

Murat Oztok, Columnist

The U.S. has long been one of the top destinations for international students motivated by professional careers, opportunities for research and socio-cultural engagement. 

Especially in the last few years, the international student experience has started to reflect the perceptions of the U.S. on the global scene. In this opinion piece, I would like to talk about my experience as an international student.

I would like to start by explaining how I decided to come to the U.S. in the first place, but first, I want to briefly mention my background, which led me to make that decision.

Back in my home country, Turkey, I became interested in football and joined a club team during my freshman year of high school. That is American football, not soccer, since many people make the fair assumption that I refer to soccer and not American football. It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that one of the club’s coaches, who is American, told me I should seriously consider going to the U.S. to study and play football.

Fast forward to my senior year of high school, I ended up in a small high school in Des Moines. As the previous team captain of my Turkish football team, I was skeptical about repeating the same leadership level in this new culture that I was now part of. I was very excited about the opportunity and hoped that my new team would embrace me for who I am and let me earn my spot through the display of hard work and athletic skills. Undoubtedly, that is exactly what happened. After the summer workouts, I developed close relationships with all the coaches and teammates, who voted me to be the team captain. Consequently, I had a great first impression of American culture and people.

After the season, I was getting recruited by college coaches and ended up getting an athletic scholarship to play football at Morningside University in 2019, where the team won the national championship. Once again, I was welcomed in this new setting and never felt like an outsider. Later, I decided to quit college athletics and transfer to Iowa State University, the main reason being my desire to give all my attention to academics. 

At first, I thought that interacting with others and making new friends would be difficult since the average class size was much larger, but then I realized I was mistaken after talking to a few students. The people I met and became close with back then welcomed me and demonstrated incredible support throughout the years.

Today, international student enrollment is going down in colleges countrywide, and I see that as a problem. The U.S. was founded not only on immigration but also benefited greatly from newly settled foreigners’ economic and cultural contributions. Supporting, investing in and welcoming international students to college campuses is essential to maintaining this variety. It is also true that international students on campuses could provide more opportunities for everybody to engage in different cultures and challenge their existing beliefs and value systems.

If you are an international student who just came to the states and faced the scary reality of being independent in a foreign country, I advise you to stick to it. Things will get much better, and you will discover parts of yourself you didn’t even know existed.

My experience in the U.S. as an international student has truly been remarkable. After five years of my time in the states, I can say Iowa has become my second home. 

When I was a young teenager living in rural Turkey, I read about this thing called the American Dream, and it is the following: 

“The belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society in which upward mobility is possible for everyone.” 

The people I met, the places I went and the things I had accomplished through given opportunities greatly reinforced my idea of the American Dream. I would highly recommend it to all foreign students who are considering taking the leap of faith. The chances are, you will not regret it.