From Istanbul to New York City; Interview with a Parsons students

by Alexandra Los

She sat and looked at me bewilderedly — an expression that I was not foreign to. Like many of the other students I had interviewed during the course of this project, each and every one of their faces had the same look of confusion. Was I targeting them? Were they in some sort of trouble? Their answers to my questions were often limited and almost always filled with hesitation.

Dilan, a Turkish student currently studying Communication Design at Parsons openly tells me of her life in New York City. She loves her classes, has made wonderful friends and finds herself wanting to stay in the city once she graduates. As much as I would love to continue the discussion about life adventures in New York, I change the topic to The New School and her personal experience being a foreign student at the university.

“I went to a French high school [in Istanbul] first and then transferred to an American high school” I enquire about whether she had to take the TOEFL exam, an English proficiency exam that many students at the New School seemingly have to take. Even after scoring above the required score for a BFA program (to pass, you must score 100 out of 120) the university obliged her to take an ELS class. I was pleased to hear that the university accommodates students coming from various backgrounds with any level of English under their belts.

After conducting a few of these interviews for my project, I increasingly became less interested in the requirements of the TOEFL exam and far more concerned with the student’s ability to communicate in class. Their personal in-class experiences were fascinating to go through, especially when comparing them to one another with their different backgrounds and hometowns. Dilan, although considered to be fluent in English (and sounds so too) tells me it is still hard for her to get her thoughts across during her presentations and class disscussions. “Expressing my ideas — sometimes I feel shy that it won’t be a proper sentence or that the professor or my class-mates won’t understand me”. As we sit and talk for a few more minutes, I find myself having to remember that I too, am an international student at the New School and yet I find absolutely no common ground with Dilan’s experience. I was raised in London, England and although English was not actually my first language, I never had to sit the TOEFL exam or worse, feel like my opinions and ideas would not translate in a classroom environment.

Dilan hesitates to share her opinion on International Student Services. Although she has nothing bad to say about them, she also admits to ways they could improve their communication with the international students. “Travel signatures! I always forget to get my travel signature at the end of the year”, something I admittedly am guilty of too.

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