Exchange student Lu Han sits in front of Welch Hall. Han is from Tianjin, China. Han moved off campus so she could have more opportunities to cook her native food.
The day Lu Han arrived in the United States, what excited her most was the grass beneath her feet.
“When I came here I saw so much grass. I was really excited,” she said.
In her hometown Tianjin, China, Han says the government has been so focused on building the economy that the environment is in poor shape.
“You can’t see a lot of green grass in China, but in the U.S. you can see it everywhere,” Han said.
Here grass is made to be walked on, but in China it is a valuable commodity. Han remembers a plot of grass in her hometown.
“In China you can’t step on the grass, because the government spent a lot of money on it,” the exchange student said. “There are a lot of Chinese people, and if everyone steps on it, it could die.”
Local plant life is a minor adjustment. The transition to dorm life is one of the more difficult transitions for international students according to Dr. Dallas Kenney, director of international studies. “A lot of them don’t last very long in the dorms,” Kenney said. “They move off as quickly as they can.”
Part of the problem is cultural differences.
“We had a situation where over 90 percent of the Nebraskan students assigned an international roommate appealed to get out of the contract.”
Han stayed with an American roommate during her first year on campus.
“I liked having an American roommate, because there were always Americans in my room so I had a chance to practice my English,” Han said.
Food is one of the main reasons students move, Kenney said. Students in the residence halls often have to share one refrigerator with everyone on their floor. Han said this was inconvenient and part of the reason she moved off campus.
“I can cook Chinese food all the time now,” Han said.
On and off-campus international students have a challenge before filling the refrigerator—finding food they are accustomed to. Aside from the limited selection at Wal-Mart, one store in the Hilltop Mall offers the only other option for Chinese food, according to Han.
Peijie Li, Han’s roommate, explained the difference from his hometown Yunnan, China. “At home I can go downstairs and find everything I need within 20 meters of the apartment— vegetables, meat, music, entertainment,” he said.
Neither Li nor Han have a car, so they have to get a ride from a friend to Grand Island for a better selection of food, and for entertainment they must go much further.
Li remembers his first call from home.
“The first time I talked to my mom she asked how Kearney was and I said, ‘boring.’ She said ‘yes!’”
Li and Han do not mind that there is less entertainment than their hometowns, which each have millions of residents. The pair does not have cable and look at it as a distraction.
“Cable is expensive and unnecessary, because we are here to study,” Li said.
Han says less entertainment actually makes Kearney a better place to study because there are fewer distractions. Kearney has been a good situation for Han.
“It’s simple and not as fast-paced as a big city. People here are friendly. I really like friendly people,” Han said.
Her one wish for American students is that they would all have the opportunity to visit China.
UNK offers exchange programs with schools in dozens of countries. Kenney is trying to expand UNK’s offerings, first in Egypt, then in a Latin American country.
“I am hoping there will be a much greater number of American students that go on exchange,” said Kenney, who traveled and lived in several Middle Eastern countries. “There is a lot to be gained from international friendships.”