Faraway families: how international students stay connected to home

Adam Elshamy (sophomore) at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 8, 2023. Renee Ye/The Occidental

Students at Occidental come from 56 different countries outside of the United States, making up about 7 percent of the student body.

Adam Elshamy (sophomore) lived in Alexandria, Egypt before coming to Los Angeles for college. He said that getting used to American culture was challenging at first but he has become more adjusted while being at Occidental.

“Alexandria is a very hectic city, so the chaos here in LA, the traffic and everything, feels like home,” Elshamy said. “And the weather, the sunshine, kind of reminds me of being back home.”

Elshamy only goes home during winter and summer breaks and said he tries to talk to his family early in the morning or late at night since there is a 10 hour time difference.

“Time really flies, so you don’t feel like you’re here for too long,” he said.

According to Elshamy, being on the golf team and having a roommate allowed him to establish meaningful relationships in his first year. However, he said he doesn’t feel like there are a lot of people on campus with the same experience as him in being so far from home.

“In any kind of room I’m in I feel like I’m very unique to everyone else. Which kind of, you can look at it as an advantage or a disadvantage, but I always look at it as an advantage,” Elshamy said. “I’m accustomed to two different cultures, I can speak more than one language, so I kind of feels like, in some sense, it gives me an edge.”

One time zone closer to LA, Mathilde Dépéry’s (junior) family lives in Annecy, France.

“I feel like we’ve been pretty good at communication. Whenever I have time, like a 10 or 15 minute free time slot, I just call them and see if they answer,” Dépéry said. “If they don’t, it’s fine and we can just text.”

Mathilde Dépéry (junior) at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 6, 2023. Renee Ye/The Occidental

As a junior, Dépéry started her life at Occidental in the midst of the pandemic, which she said she saw as an advantage to gradually adjusting to American culture. She took classes at home for her first semester and was one of a few international students living on campus in the second semester. Dépéry also said she could ask for Zoom recordings if she misunderstood any content from class during her first semester, which mitigated the language barrier coming to Occidental.

According to Dépéry, her mother gave her decorations from home to put in her room at Occidental, including posters from both her hometown and their summer vacation spot. Dépéry is also on the women’s tennis team at Occidental, and said that gave her a sort of instant community.

“My life here at Oxy and at home is really different and I’ve accepted that fact. I think one thing that helped was that here, everyone calls me Tilly, and back home, everyone calls me Mathilde. I kind of split my personality,” Dépéry said. “Tilly is the French American girl that goes to college and whenever I’m going back home, I’m just Mathilde. It’s like someone different, sort of.”

Dépéry still said she misses going out to eat with her family, particularly for the big culture of cheese in her hometown.

Vadim Fedutinov (first year) at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 6, 2023. Renee Ye/The Occidental

Vadim Fedutinov (first year) is originally from Russia, however, his mother and siblings moved with him to the United States when he was in fourth grade. His father, grandmother and some extended family still live in Russia. According to Fedutinov, he calls his father as often as he can, but the 11 hour time difference affects it.

“It’s hard getting around it if I have class and you really just get caught up often,” he said.

As the second semester rolls around, Fedutinov said he has adjusted more to being in college.

“A lot of the people here are from all over the world. Just hearing people’s experiences and their own way of coming into it — I feel like everybody has their own little story, especially if you’re coming from a different country or are first generation,” Fedutinov said. “It’s really interesting to see how we’re all here at the same time with such different backgrounds.”

Contact Mollie Barnes at mbarnes@oxy.edu


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