A challenging, exciting and transformative journey in Glendale Community College.
Htet Enedray Tun from Mandalay, Myanmar, is a junior majoring in computer engineering at Glendale Community College in Glendale, California.
Why did you decide to study in the USA?
From a young age, I grew up watching American movies and saw the lives that people here lead and noticed the big differences in educational opportunities, how openly people act, and the diversity in the United States. Most of the time students have the opportunity to express themselves without hesitation and professors are always there to listen and give their opinion on any of the questions that students may have. By giving feedback on students’ ideas, it helps them gain more confidence in themselves. The United States, especially California, is rich with people from many different cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds. It is so interesting to see that no matter what your background might be, people are not judgemental and nearly everyone treats anyone as equals. Since English is my second language, I believe that Glendale Community College (GCC) was a perfect place for me to gain more confidence in my conversational skills and be a lot more comfortable with myself as well.
Why did you choose this particular college or university?
I chose to go to GCC because of the various academic majors that they offer to students who are looking to transfer to a four-year university. The campus is also located in a safe suburban location in the city of Glendale also known as the “Jewel City,” so feeling unsafe on campus was never a concern. Plus, there is also a park near campus which is a great place for students to hang out or study. GCC also has an attractive transfer rate of students, which gives me confidence that the faculties here are caring and want students to succeed. The international students’ office here is wonderful and has counselors who are extremely understanding and diligent in their fields. Whenever I had a question about my academics, they would always be there to help. There are also many clubs in GCC, so it makes it easier to make friends and find people who have similar interests. GCC is also particularly close to major attractions such as the Hollywood walk of fame, beautiful beaches where the sunsets look incredible, as well as Disneyland, and many more.
What do you like best about your program or university?
I like that GCC has many campus resources such as mental health counseling, language lab — which is really useful when you are taking a language class since they have programs that help with learning and understanding that language — career counseling, and many more. What I like best would be the academic counselors that GCC has for international students; they are very helpful and compassionate as they would go above and beyond to help students to adjust to the American college system. My country had a completely different educational system, so going to counselors whenever I am confused helped me a great deal with my concerns. I also found the engineering webpage of GCC to be very helpful since it contains answers to most of the questions that students who are considering engineering as their major have. As GCC has many of those resources, students are able to find success in their studies here as well as when they transfer or when getting an associate degree.
What do you miss most about home?
Ever since COVID happened, I learned that we should not take the things that we have for granted. I found myself missing my family back in Burma. I would talk to them whenever I had free time from school but it does not feel the same as when we saw each other face to face. My parents are always busy most of the time with their work, so there are conflicts with our schedules due to time conflicts and whatnot since Burma is about 14 hours ahead of Los Angeles. I also miss the quarrels that I had with my two little brothers and the fights that I had with them even though I found it really annoying at that time. I haven’t gotten the chance to travel back to Burma ever since I got here mainly because the pandemic started but I am planning to travel back before I transfer. Also, the Burmese food is to die for. I can just imagine the delicious aroma and the sizzling of the fried food together with the sounds of clanging pots and pans back home.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
To be completely honest, nearly everything that I saw was surprising to me since everything — starting from the ways that people act to how we cross the streets — was completely different from what I saw at home. I was also surprised to see that the population of homelessness in LA is a lot higher than what I had in mind, since Hollywood movies only showed the grand parts of the city, I didn’t expect to see this. I was also flabbergasted when I saw the nightlife in LA. It is safe to go out in most of the places, and you will even find people walking alongside you when you are out during the night. Most of the people are friendly and when I get lost, I can ask anyone for help which is very comforting when traveling alone. Life in LA may be overwhelming at first, but over time you will come to like the city and be used to the culture
... your biggest disappointment?
My biggest disappointment was the racism that became evident when the pandemic happened that was directed towards Asians especially towards Chinese people. Since the U.S. is known to be an open and free country where people are accepting and non-judgemental, it was a big disappointment to me. I understand that racism in every county is inevitable but it surprised me to see people treating me with discriminatory behaviors just because of my skin color. But I was able to talk about my experiences with my counselor and friends which made me feel safe and be confident with being myself.
How have you handled:
... language differences?
For me, I went to an international school when I was back in my country, but speaking and writing English was still a struggle for me when I first arrived here. To broaden my language skills, I would talk to people who I met at bus stops, the library, and during classes. It helped me make more friends and feel more assured when speaking with people as well as lessen my worries when it comes to figuring out whether they understand me or not. Speaking up in class and participating when there are lectures also helped me greatly since the professors are very understanding when it comes to language barriers. After around 3 years in the United States, I still have difficulties when finding the right words to express myself, but when giving myself time to think I found it easier to convey my thoughts better.
Going to GCC rather than going to a four-year university first saved me a lot of money, but the tuition rates are still expensive compared to my country. To help my parents financially, I have an on-campus job that helps me pay for food, books, and my living expenses, but I still have to depend on my parents for my tuition fees. I also try to maintain my GPA and apply for the scholarships that the college offers to international students as well although it is a bit tough since not a lot of scholarships are offered. I have also been making an effort to save up to buy a car, which will make commuting to school much easier.
... adjusting to a different educational system?
At first, it was a bit challenging to catch up to a completely new educational system. I was only used to having exams once a month and getting letter grades rather than having a GPA system. I often found going to the office hours of the professors useful when being confused about a subject. They are always willing to help and are supportive of me along my educational journey. Having study groups also helped me too since I can ask them freely about what they know also helps with understanding the material better. Since the pandemic started and classes are online, students have created groups for each class that allow students to be in touch with one another and help each other out.
What are your activities?
There are many clubs in GCC, which means there are many opportunities for students to get involved, make friends, and gain more experiences. As for me, I am currently the president of the International Students Club. Being involved in this club has helped me with my social anxiety when it comes to speaking in front of many people and also helped me break out of my comfort zone as well. It is a great way to make new friends and learn about many different cultures. I’m also a member of the gaming club here too, they have an area where many students gather to play games together. I also try to join the activities that the ASGCC club has whenever I have free time since they are so unique and memorable. Being a student worker in the International Student Office has also allowed me to meet different kinds of people, which gives me an opportunity to make friends and learn more about American culture too.
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
When I first arrived here, it was intimidating to make friends because I was afraid that they were not going to understand me. But it turned out that it’s easier to make friends than I thought as long as I keep an open mind and take any opportunity to talk to people. Although since I was not born here there are differences in the way that we think and talk, which makes it harder to understand people to get to know them on a deeper level. But if they are open to understanding and are patient, the language barrier is not something to worry about. I would say that joining clubs at school has given me the most opportunities to get to know many of the friends that I have right now. The only thing that I regret is that I didn’t go out much when I started school here, it made me miss home more and be lonely but after going out and hanging out with friends it became more fun and enjoyable.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
My educational goals are to get a graduate degree in a university after getting my bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering. Since Burma is not quite developed and due to the coup that is happening right now, I would like to continue my education here in the United States and learn more about the engineering fields to see how I can help my country develop and grow into a better country than it is now. I am planning to find an OPT here while getting my graduate degree and get used to how jobs here operate which will help me when I return to my country.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering a U.S. education?
My advice for other students is that you should not be afraid to try new things because by having a chance to get an education here it will open up many opportunities to do things that you have never done before. Take many chances and make sure to not have second thoughts about making a decision because everyone makes mistakes, we just have to learn from them. I understand that it is a hefty decision to leave your country and study alone in an unfamiliar country but it will help you become stronger as a person and gain more confidence in what you are capable of. Studying abroad has helped me tremendously by making me more independent and more decisive in my life.
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