BY GABBY RAYMOND ’20
The first international student studied at Mount Holyoke in 1839, just two years after Mary Lyon opened the doors to educate women from all over the United States, according to the Mount Holyoke website. In the 2016 – 2017 school year students from over 61 countries attended Mount Holyoke College. Because one person cannot speak for a whole community, the News seeks to tell the individual stories like that of Maha Mapara, a first-year from Karachi, Pakistan.
Mapara always knew she wanted to study abroad. “It was something I had thought of since childhood. My mother is a frequent traveler to the U.S. for her job, and my grandfather also studied here as well. Everyone I knew had studied abroad - it was just a normal thing,” she stated.
Although Mapara had never traveled to the Northeast or to Mount Holyoke College, she decided to study abroad here. “There is a lot of room for conversation here, and while I do miss having male friends, I’ve started to think of Mount Holyoke like home; I’m starting to settle in.”
As a first-year she has only just begun her journey on campus, but Mapara said that other Pakistani international students have been her main support system as she transitions into the American college environment.
“I’ve met people here that lived five streets away from me growing up — I never knew them, but now we are good friends,” Mapara said, “Now we all cry together, miss the same food together and struggle together in a new society.”
Being in a community of people who understood her culture — from religion, to what food she was craving to how she was raised — was really important to Mapara at the beginning of her fall semester. For every student, college brings new challenges of finding friends and support systems, and international students must do this outside of their own culture. “Whatever society or culture you’re from it does become a bubble. You live in that world for your whole life, [so] college has brought a lot of exposure to other cultures for me,” said Mapara.
At times, getting to know new people was a challenge for Mapara. “People were more reserved in the beginning, [because] I think people had a certain image of how I am based on how I look. Because I’m a brown person I think people are a bit more reserved with me than they normally would be with another person.”
Because she stood out, Mapara felt she would “have to be the icebreaker all the time, even when [she wasn’t] in the mood,” she said. “ I never realized that would happen, but now that I’m making more friends in non-brown cultures, it’s getting better.”
Mapara also addressed assumptions people have made about her because she is an international student. “People are always surprised that I speak [English] fluently and well, which I don’t understand. I’ve been studying English since I was a child.” She went on to say that besides the assumption that she couldn’t speak English well, “[there’s] nothing really discriminatory. Mostly people approach me with curiosity. [They have] questions like ‘how do you do this’ or ‘how is this different’. Everything was really kindly worded… people’s perceptions of my culture just surprised me.”