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International Student Shares Struggles in Last Semester Abroad

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22-year-old Japanese international student Haruka Hamamoto was enthusiastic about getting to share her political and social views with students at UAlbany, but soon encountered great difficulty connecting with non-international students.

During her first semester, she, along with other international students, struggled to make friends. “This school doesn’t have a good support for international students even though we have so many here,” Hamamoto said. “I see lots of posts from students going to another university and having a Japanese night [because] students are more interested in Japanese culture. I was jealous.”

She feels some may have a stigma against international students, assuming she already has a group of friends or doesn’t want to speak English. “I wanted to be social but I just didn’t know how.”

Students that were interested in Hamamoto’s culture didn’t always have the best intentions either. “The two things I hear from people when they know I’m Japanese is either, ‘Do you watch anime?’ or ‘I like Asian women,’” Hamamoto said. Although she is happy to practice with students studying Japanese, she prefers to be treated like everyone else.

Regardless, Hamamoto was looking forward to studying abroad. She was excited about the cultural differences between Japan and America. “People here always talk about politics, or gender and sexual orientation. Most Japanese students don’t have their own opinions, they just don’t care.”

Americans are more open to talking about gender, sex, women’s rights and race, according to Hamamoto. In Japan, these topics are considered taboo. “I always thought if I come to the U.S., I’ll have more chances to discuss with people my own opinions, and I love to listen to other’s opinions,” she says.

Hamamoto’s more optimistic about this semester than her first: “I’m having fun this semester, I’m learning new slangs and I love speaking English. My internship is interesting.” This is her last semester before she returns to Kansai Gaidai University.

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