Kent State’s international students feel right at home

Xiaorui “Rae” Li, senior accounting major. Photo by Chelsae Ketchum.

Maura Zurick

Kent State has a growing population of international students and faculty that is making the campus a melting pot of cultures. Students and faculty members from countries like India, Turkey, France, China, Korea and Saudi Arabia only make up part of Kent’s diverse population.


Xiaorui “Rae” Li, senior accounting major, is from Beijing, China. She has been in Kent for a year and a half, and she misses Chinese food more than anything.

She described Beijing as an old city full of history and culture but with people from all over the world, like Kent. She misses things like Beijing’s cheap public transit and the diversity of food. She said some things she does not like about Beijing is the air pollution and that the government is demolishing historical buildings.

But Li isn’t in Kent to reminisce about her homeland, but because the United States has the “best education in the world.”

“There are tons of programs and activities in Kent,” Li said. “For example, the study abroad program in China, would be much more ]“For example, the study abroad program in China, would be much more competitive to get because there are so many people in China.”

Li studied abroad in Geneva, Switzerland through Kent’s study-abroad program for a semester.

She said moving to America wasn’t a hard transition for her to make because she was always away from home and she travels a lot. Li had been to Africa and Canada before coming to Ohio.

“Talking about the culture shock, I think it’s making me become a more polite person,” Li said. “Another different thing is Americans are more independent than Chinese, on both financial and life aspect.”

Li said before she came to America she thought it was normal to spend her parents’ money before, but now, she feels a little ashamed to tell people that she is spending her parents’ money for school and travel.

“But the thing is, if we have a part-time job in China, it is hard for us to live,” She said. “Our salary is much less than salaries in the U.S.”

Li said her favorite thing about being in the U.S. is the people. “I like the way that Americans deal with people, most of them are friendly, even to the strangers,” she said. “They are very helpful.”

She also likes shopping more in the U.S. because the products are cheaper and better quality than she can typically find in China. However, she said food in America is more expensive.

After college, she plans to go back to China to teach in a poor rural area for at least six months. Then she wants to work for several years before she comes back to U.S. to get her master’s degree. Her final goal is to work for a non-governmental organization and to help people in need.

“I also want to travel around the world with my mom,” Li said.


Reshmi Mehta, sophomore political science major, was born in America, but her parents were not. Her family still holds on to their Indian heritage even though they live in Akron, Ohio, thousands of miles away from their home city of Mumbai, India.

“All of my mom’s family still lives in India, so my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are all still there,” Mehta said. “I’ve been to India probably five, maybe six times. I just went there for three weeks to visit with family.”

Mehta said her parents miss India because they still have family there, especially her mom.

When she was younger, they debated whether they should move back but ultimately chose not to since their children were in school.

“My dad has been here since he was 17,” she said. “He came here with his brother and they worked in a small shop in Virginia Beach. They came here pretty young, but over there coming to America is exciting and a good option for your life.”

After that her dad worked in the jewelry business where he met her mom. Now, her mom is a diamond buyer for Sterling, and her dad is in pharmaceutical sales.

She said her mom’s job allows her to travel frequently, so she is able to go to India to see her family more often. She said being able to visit home and the Indian community where they live allows them to hold on to their traditions and culture.

Mehta said when she went to Sunday school with her sister for eight years to learn about Indian culture, religion, Hindi and dances. Her parents are fluent in Hindi, and she can understand it very well. Their neighborhood is filled with other Indian families, which makes living in a foreign country easier.

“For 10 years of my early childhood we had monthly meetings where the people in our community get together at someone’s house and bring things like paintings to create makeshift temples and we would sing bhajans which are hymns,” she said. “We also went to the temple in Cleveland and I met a lot of my high school friends there, but Akron really has a decent sized group of Indian people.”

She said her mother makes the most delicious Indian food. Her mother has a huge spice drawer that she uses to prepare traditional Indian meals and if she runs out she sometimes asks her neighbors to borrow spices.

“It’s a common thing for Indians to help each other out,” Mehta said. “If my mom needs a spice we can ask a neighbor and they will give us some. My mom also brings spices home from her travels.”

After graduating from Kent, Mehta plans to go to law school and hopes to work with humanitarian law.

Saudi Arabia

Mazen Alshaikh, a sophomore marketing major, is from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He has been in the United States for two years, after his wife’s cousin helped him apply for school and find a place to live.

He said coming to Kent was one of the best decisions he has ever made.

“Kent is not a big city, so it is a good place for studying because while there is everything we need, there are not many distractions,” Alshaikh said.

He said he misses his family and friends back home more than anything, but he also craves Saudi foods.

“American foods are fast foods,” Alshaikh said. “They aren’t very healthy. Back home we use a lot of spices with rice. It’s healthy and very good.”

Even though there are many cultural differences between Saudi Arabia and the U.S., Alshaikh said the transition was not a difficult one. He said one of the most noticeable differences in culture would be the fashion.

In Saudi Arabia, men and women wear traditional and conservative outfits that are modest but also good protection from the sun and heat. Alshaikh has adapted his fashion style to more American brands like American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch.

“In Saudi Arabia, men wear white robes usually,” he said. “White is a practical color we use because of the heat. Our fabrics are also very light. That’s probably the biggest difference. The weather is very different there, so we have to dress different.”

After graduating from Kent, he plans to stay in America to finish out his schooling and eventually get a job. He wants to get a master’s degree and maybe eventually a Ph.D. He said he will continue to travel and he thinks his family will come visit him in American while he focuses on school.


Ediz Kaykayoglu, the education abroad manager for the Office of Global Education, is from Istanbul, Turkey. He has been living in America for eight and a half years.

He said he thinks international students come to Kent because it is a diverse and welcoming environment. Students, staff and faculty members are very supportive for globalizing campus and that attracts foreign and domestic students who are looking for that diversity.

“Kent is also a safe place that has less distraction but also a lot of events and things for students to do,” Kaykayoglu said. “There are various different advantages to be a student here.”

During the time he has been here, Kaykayoglu has been both studying and working. He is currently working on his dissertion at Kent.

“I feel like I’m at home, and I’m happy to come to work every single say,” he said. “My whole life changed for the good, and I think Kent welcomes internationals really well. Kent also allows internationals to influence the community, which makes it easier to adjust.”

Like the other internationals, Kaykayoglu said he also misses food the most. He misses his family, friends and other cultural aspects.

“We do have a Turkish community here of students and staff, so having an existence of that Turkish community really helps as well,” he said. “Living here fully makes me a world citizen.”

He is the study abroad manager, so he said he talks with foreign and domestic students about the challenges studying in a foreign country presents. He is able to relate and give advice because he is living, working and studying in a foreign country.

“Studying abroad in a different country and different environment is always a hard thing,” Kaykayoglu said. “There are many challenges that really deal with yourself. The challenges help us with self improvement, problem solving, critical thinking and we become more tolerant. I think people living overseas also are the ones who try to contribute to world peace.”

Kaykayoglu said he would recommend studying at Kent State and studying abroad to anyone.

Contact Maura Zurick at [email protected].