Life as an ECC international student


Breyana Perry

Catherine Briggs sits at her desk, ready to work.

Breyana Perry, Staff Writer

Studying abroad is something many students would like the chance to do, but many wonder about the experience of students who travel from another country to study in the U.S.

At Elgin Community College, Director of International Education and Programs, Lauren Nehlsen Ph.D. makes sure that international students feel welcomed and included during their time at ECC.

“When international students come to ECC, there is a three-day new student orientation that provides information on the institution, tips for student success and an introduction to what student life is about,” Nehlsen said.

The rate of international students at ECC is 75-80 international students on various visa types who come to ECC in any semester term.

“The college also hosts an International Student Homestay Program, [which is] a unique program that provides international students with the opportunity to live with a local American family during their time at ECC,” Nehlsen said. “International students in the homestay program are welcomed into host families’ homes; the program is an excellent way to adjust to life in the U.S. The goal of the program is to build bridges of cultural appreciation.”

While at ECC, the tuition for an international student is $497.79 per credit hour, the same as the out of state rate. Also, while attending, it is expected for international students to be full-time.

“International students must be registered full-time, 12 hours, each semester and are also required to remain in compliance with strict federal immigration regulations,” Nehlsen said. “We help international students remain in compliance with their visa through workshops at orientation and updates and information sent to students throughout the semester.”

Nehlsen is confident that international students’ American college experience will be unforgettable.

“Otherwise, international students can expect to have a wonderful experience at ECC, like any other student,” Nehlsen said. “As an inclusive and welcoming institution, we are pleased to welcome international students to the cultural diversity of ECC!”

Jay Chen, an international student who has been here for half a year, came from China, where things felt very different.

“Being an international student, it feels like a strange environment here,” Chen said.

Leaving home for the first time can be a scary experience for anybody, especially when you’re not sure about what’s going to happen next, but there can be some exciting parts, too.

“At first I was nervous about making new friends, but now I’m okay with making friends in America,” Chen said. “Sometimes, I feel lonely and miss my family and country, but things are okay now.”

In China, Chen didn’t have any chances to join any clubs in high school because there weren’t any available at his school, but now he is in the Chinese club.

“It’s great and a good challenge,” Chen said. “Next semester, I’m going to be president of the club. I never did this in China, with managing people, but now it’s time for learning and trying new things.”

Catherine Briggs, an international student that came from Johannesburg, South Africa, started attending ECC the fall semester of 2018 and has thoroughly enjoyed her time since being here.

Imagine being in a new setting where you know no one, and it’s a different cultural setting. So, meeting people and making friends can already be a difficult task, but when you’re not in a place where you grew up and are most comfortable, it can be very tough.

“I’m naturally not nervous meeting people but when it came to meeting people my age it was something that was hard to do,” Briggs said.

Since leaving home, Briggs feels more independent while she’s away from her family. Briggs has been finding out more about herself that she didn’t know once existed.

When going to international student orientation, it helped Briggs find a student worker job that she enjoys very much. It gives her a chance to show new international students around and learn about their new campus.  

Since the tuition rate is different for international students, it doesn’t seem difficult since its more of a priority for Briggs, but paying for it herself can be hard.

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way,” Briggs said.