Accounting for nearly 10 percent of the student population, international students are an integral part of the community here at Bowdoin.  

The Office of Admissions aims to assemble a student body with a global perspective and views international students as playing an integral role in achieving this objective. 

“We hope that the academic experience at Bowdoin is one that gives all students a chance to understand topics and issues from many different points of view,” said Dean of Admissions Scott Meiklejohn. 

Any student with a non-American passport is considered an international student. However, Meiklejohn says that there are two other groups of students who are considered international though they hold American passports.

A student born in a foreign country to American parents might hold an American passport without having ever visited the U.S. before coming to Bowdoin.

Additionally, a student born in a foreign country who immigrated to America and later became a U.S. citizen also has an international perspective.

Ivy Xing ’15 is one such student.

“I was born and raised in China, and I lived there for twelve years. And then I immigrated here and became a naturalized citizen,” Xing said.

Arianna Cameron ’16, who grew up in Los Angeles with an Italian mother and British father, considers herself European at heart, having lived much of her life in Mallorca.

“My parents, they never really assimilated. What they’re used to in their culture was always European. So I grew up that way even though I grew up mostly in LA. My parents didn’t really let me become American,” Cameron said.

Jillian Burk ’16 is from Nova Scotia, Canada, and has a very different perspective.

“Sometimes, I forget I’m an international student,” Burk said.

Socially, international students are often tightly knit among themselves but not insular. 

“I’m pretty sure all of my friends are American,” said Burk. 

Xing typically socializes with two distinct groups—her American first year roommates and her Chinese friends.

Busra Eriz ’17, from Turkey, said she felt naturally drawn to friendships with other international students on campus.  

“It’s much easier to be friends with international students,” she says. “It’s weird because you come from completely different countries, but what we have here is different for all of us, so it’s much easier to make friends with international students.” 

“We kind of cling together,” said Vivien Lee ’17, from Hong Kong. “Bowdoin is pretty homogenous, I must say. There are some international kids and most of them are together. I think it’s still pretty separated.”

For some students, however, there isn’t necessarily a community from their country of origin. 
Hassaan Mirza ’17 is the only student at Bowdoin from Pakistan.  

“At Bowdoin you’re one of the very few,” said Mirza. “Everyone on my floor but one grew up in America, everyone on the floor beneath me is also from America, everyone of the floor above me is also from America so I associate and hang out more with the Americans because there’s no one else.”

The awarding of financial aid is the same for domestic and international students with the exception of federal grants for which international students are ineligible.

Bowdoin is “need blind” for domestic students but “need aware” for international students. Domestic students are rejected or accepted regardless of their financial situation while international students’ admission decisions take into account their ability to pay tuition.

“We don’t have enough money to be need blind for international students,” Dean Meiklejohn said.

Bowdoin has been steadily increasing its outreach to other countries.  Bowdoin admissions officers travel with representatives from Carleton, Pomona and Swarthmore Colleges to high schools in Asia and Europe. They also traveled to Central and South America for the first time this year.

“Last year, it was the first time that a Bowdoin representative came to Vietnam,” says Son Ngo ’17. “So he came to my class, because my class specializes in English and usually a lot of students from there go study abroad in the U.S. They introduced Bowdoin and the wonderful things about it.” 

Additionally, counselor fairs in the United States allows Admissions to reach out to large groups of international college counselors, who then can recruit students from their schools.
However, a large portion of students find their way to Bowdoin through word-of-mouth rather than formal recruiting, and many emphasized the appeal of liberal arts curriculum in their decision-making process.  

“My parents’ friends are American and they told me about liberal arts colleges,” said Amina Ben Ismail ’17, from Tunisia. “They gave me a list and I basically applied to that list.” 

“I have grandparents in Rockland, which is an hour north,” said Lucy Knott ’17, from England. “Every summer we would drive up from Boston to Rockland and we’d always see the signs for Bowdoin.” 

“In Brazil, you have to know what you’re going to do when you get to college, and I wasn’t ready for that at all, so I wanted to go somewhere where I could explore my options and have more choices,” said Andrea Wunderlich ’17 from Brazil. “And then Bowdoin, well, it was just easy to find Bowdoin.” 

Culture shock

Many international students make the transition to life in small-town Maine relatively smoothly, but coming to Bowdoin often does not come without a certain degree of difficulty. 

“You feel like you don’t know the simplest things they do. The food they eat is completely different,” said Eriz. “Something so difficult for you is the simplest thing for them. It’s like you’re not socially mature enough. It’s so cold here and I saw someone jogging and I was like ‘Are you out of your mind?’”

According to some students, culture shock can often work in reverse as well.

“I didn’t want people to stereotype me, but I realized that they can’t help it,” Mirza said. “That was kind of surprising and hard to deal with in the beginning.”

“Especially, I feel like if you have an accent that becomes such a big deal. People only listen to how you’re speaking, not what you’re saying, and that really bothered me in the beginning,” Mirza said. 

“I didn’t realize people wouldn’t know where Singapore is,” said Sophia Cheng ’15. “That’s not something I was expecting because I came from a very international school, a very international background. It’s like, I’m not shocked where they’re from but they’re shocked where I’m from.” 

“I didn’t expect it to be so easy, but once you get used to it you realize how hard it is to speak English every day when it’s not your language, and to get American humor and American culture and American parties and American food,” said Ismail.  

For Gil Hwang ’17, the experience of meeting foreigners was as eye-opening as that of being a foreigner in a different country.

“In South Korea, you don’t really see many Americans. In my 12 years of education there, I had never seen anyone who was not Korean in my classroom, which is really different from America,” said Hwang. “I wasn’t in a situation where I really had to think about the importance of diversity and culture, which I realized after I came to Bowdoin because now I am an addition to the diversity and culture on this campus.” 

Gabe Varela ’14, from France, admitted that most of the international students he knows had a hard time transitioning, although most eventually come to appreciate their experience. 

“Bowdoin is not easy for international students,” said Varela. “Since it’s so small and it’s so far from any city anywhere where you could have some sort of diverse feeling, it’s really tough.” 
“You expect what you get as an American student. More or less, you kind of expect the college experience and then you get the college experience,” said Varela. “It’s a little bit weirder for international students who don’t expect it the way Americans do and kind of get here and discover what it means to be in college.” 

Although many international students are proficient in English before arriving on campus, subtle language barriers present themselves. 

Wunderlich cited the difficulty of living in a two-language mindset. “I’m very used to talking to my friends in a mixture of Portuguese and English, because we go to an American school so all our classes are in English but we are all Brazilian, so I’m so used to throwing Portuguese words in the middle of sentences and just mixing the two and for me it’s been a bit hard to communicate with people just in English. There’s a bit of a barrier there, even though I grew up around the language.”

Beyond linguistic differences, many international students choose chem-free housing because of cultural differences about alcohol.

“Now, looking back, I wish I had been chem-free,” said Wunderlich. 

Ismail, who is not chem-free, spoke to common feelings regarding the disparate attitudes toward drinking and nightlife.  She anticipated culture shock in coming to the United States for college, but was surprised to find it the bulk difference in social life.

“Some students come to college and they are free. In Tunisia it is very different. People drink when they are 18, so they know their limits,” said Ismail. “I feel like in America, people go out to get wasted and hook up. They have a different definition of fun.” 

School break

For international students who have to navigate time zones, connecting flights and customs lines to return home, vacations pose a unique challenge. Many international students stay with friends rather than make the journey home for shorter breaks.

“It’s a struggle to find friends and somewhere to go when you have this two week break and you don’t know what to do,” said Eriz, who is only able to go home twice a year. 

Some, like Alex Sadler ’16 from Melbourne, Australia, have not returned home since starting at Bowdoin. 

Negotiating Visas

As they navigate college, international students also have to think about what will come next, as student visas typically do not extend far beyond the period of study. Most international students at Bowdoin intend to stay in the United States after Bowdoin, but it can be difficult to acquire a work visa to do so.

“That’s a very hot topic among international students,” Xing said. “Something that I know is difficult for international students is to find internships and jobs.”

She mentioned that the need for a work visa seems to put additional pressure on international students to perform academically.

“I find that a lot of them worry about their grades more so than the non-international students that I’m friends with,” said Xing. 

The College provides limited guidance for students during the visa application process.

“For students on a particular visa, I act as a liason between the government and this campus,” said Michael Wood, Associate Director of First Year Programs and International Student Advisor. 
“There are just some extra steps that international students have to think about—extra processes, paperwork, things that are crucial to their ability to be here,” said Wood. 

“Bowdoin offers what it can, in terms of support,” said Cheng. 

“I could end up living the rest of my life [in the U.S.], I have no idea,” said Varela. “That feeling is a lot different than just like ‘I’m going to go visit a country.’”

Michel Yang ’14, from Seoul, expressed a desire to ensure that his future children grow up immersed in Korean culture.

“I want to go and make sure my kid gets raised in Korea and feels Korean.”

On the other hand, staying in the United States can provide international students with more opportunities.

“I’m doing for me, there’s no point to go back to the U.K.,” said Tom Ciampi ’16. “There’s so much more money in the U.S., so much more power in the U.S. to do that.”
Nevertheless, the draws to campus are the same for everyone, independent of where students came from. 

“At a school this small, the connection between people is so close. Here I feel like it’s very homey, because you see everyone everyday,” said Max Miao ’17, from China. 

“It’s a really fun experience for me to be in such a different place but it’s a really welcoming place. Nobody judges anyone,” said Eriz. “Bowdoin’s probably one of the best places because nobody judges anybody!” 

Eliza Novick-Smith contributed to this article.