By Eleanor Mair, Contributor
The transition into university can be difficult. The experience of living in a new town, trying to make new friends, participating in brand new courses and gaining a sense of independence can be overwhelming. For incoming international students, however, their recent travels, sometimes thousands of miles away from home, to immerse themselves in a completely new country and culture adds another layer to this experience.
Kaoru Phillips, assistant director of International Programs, has been through all of that. In 1984, she moved from Japan to Maine in order to learn English and immerse herself in an English-speaking culture. After completing an English as a Second Language course at Westbrook College, she transferred to USM to complete both her associate’s degree in basic studies and her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and geography.
She later began working in the Office of International Programs at USM after helping other Japanese students acclimate to life in the United States, and has worked there ever since, helping hundreds of students from the U.S. and around the world.
Phillips said that the most fulfilling part of her job is getting to know all of the students and experiencing all of the different cultures that new international students bring to the USM community. She stated that many incoming students are arriving from places such as the U.K., South Korea, Nepal and Nigeria.
Because of her personal experience, Phillips feels that she can relate to students and support them as well. Phillips still remembers the struggle of coming to a new country. At first she was really excited, but once the excitement wore off, culture shock and the reality of the sheer distance she was from her home set in. The language barrier she experienced added another layer of frustration.
“My host family couldn’t communicate with me and I’d get frustrated because I thought I was saying something but they couldn’t understand me,” Phillips said.
After six months, however, she felt more at home and now recommends that every student should take advantage of the many study abroad opportunities available at USM.
Students have the chance to travel to many different countries, with USM having many partner universities all over the world, including in the Netherlands, Japan, New Zealand and those countries mentioned earlier. Phillips believes that studying abroad gives students a chance to experience a new culture, as well as learn more about themselves and their own culture.
“I thought I knew about Japan before I came here but I realized that I didn’t know anything,” Phillips said. “I started learning a lot about my own country after I got out because I get to see Japan from the outside.”
Phillips expressed how important it is for students to take advantage of available study abroad opportunities.
“Just do it,” she said, noting the many chances students have to study abroad over the spring and summer breaks.
Lastly, the one thing Phillips misses most from Japan: “The food!”
If you are interested in studying abroad, please contact the International Office in 101 Payson Smith Hall on the Portland campus.