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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Finding a home away from home: Students find and fight trials abroad

Imagine Tucson in August, at noon. The heat makes being outside unbearable. The bus drops you off on an abandoned street corner. You speak little English. You have no cellphone, and even if you did, you’d have nobody to call. You have only your luggage and your new address.

You’re helpless.

This is how Xiyuan Qiu, a business management junior from China, described his first experience in Tucson.

“The first day I came here was terrible. Nobody helped me,” he said. “(I) almost just gave up.”

Every year, more than 2,000 international students like Qiu flock to the UA while about 350 Wildcats scatter across the globe. During their study abroad experience, some of these students manage to stay in dormitories, but many must find a place to live on their own. Sound challenging? Here are some tips for success:

Take advantage of university resources

After three hours of wandering Tucson’s streets, Qiu arrived at a Circle K. A man there gave him the telephone number for a taxi company and eventually, Qiu made it to his new apartment. Now, three years later, he is the president of the University of Arizona Association of Chinese Students and Scholars, which works to ensure incoming Chinese students don’t suffer what he did.

“We give the new student backup,” Qiu said. “They are not by themselves, they have a big association that can help them.”
Qiu said he picks up more than 100 Chinese students from the airport each summer. He helps them identify potential housing options in Tucson and breaches the language barrier between students and American landlords.

When students are ready to draw up housing contracts, university officials may act as liaisons, facilitating communication and confirming that both parties are on the same page.

Some landlords try to hoodwink foreign students into unfavorable agreements, according to Qiu. Others don’t understand that these students lack Social Security numbers, which are necessary to run background checks, according to Noelle Sallaz, an international student adviser.

“I would use the UofA resources before you sign anything,” Sallaz said. “I feel like we’re familiar with these issues and it’s easier for us to communicate them.”

Plan ahead

Skyping from a cafe in Spain, Mitch Cravens’ first words were: “Number one piece of advice: Don’t do what I did.”

Cravens, a junior majoring in Spanish and linguistics, studied abroad in Paris last semester. His host university, Paris Diderot, ran out of space in its on-campus international housing, so Cravens had to go it alone.

To give himself time to search for a place to live, he booked three nights in a hostel. But after unsuccessfully combing the Internet for available housing, those three nights turned into 12 days.

“Those 10 days after I realized I wasn’t going to have any housing were probably the worst 10 days of my life,” Cravens said. “It’s a pretty horrible feeling.”

Finally, he and two Italian students he met in the hostel found an apartment in Paris’ sixteenth district, Auteuil. However, looking back, Cravens said he wishes he would have been better prepared and secured a place to stay before his arrival.

“Even if you’re confident in your skills, you’re hitting the ground running and you’ve done it before with housing, I think it’s always a better idea to have something already set when you get there,” he said.

Use social networking

Li Qiao, a finance sophomore, came to the UA from China two years ago. Before he left, he discovered the UA Association of Chinese Students and Scholars through a Chinese social networking site, the “QQ.”

When Qiao arrived in Arizona, it was Qiu who met him at the airport, got him safely to a hotel and introduced him to his future roommates. Because of the pre-existing network established by the association, Qiao said finding housing was easy.

For UA students traveling internationally, there is a UA Study Abroad Facebook page. Here, students can advertise available housing, share information about various study abroad programs and exchange travel advice.

The Facebook page also connects students to credible study abroad sites like Abroad 101, Diversity Abroad and Students Gone Global, introducing them to travelers around the world.

Live with others

Although every student prefers different living arrangements, study abroad adviser Kristen Michelson recommends that those going abroad live with families or other students of different linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

“I think being in another country can sometimes be a very isolating experience, and so living alone will just exacerbate that,” she said.

Sharing an apartment with fellow international students deepens students’ cultural experiences by exposing them to new cuisines, languages and perspectives, Michelson said, adding that students looking to truly experience the nuances of day-to-day life in their host country should opt to live with local families.

In this kind of housing arrangement, students can learn things like what a typical family eats for breakfast, how parents communicate with children and what kind of conversations take place at dinner time. Families may also serve as “local informants,” making it easier for students to navigate their new home.

Stick it out — it’s worth it

Despite the desperation he felt during his first 12 days in Paris, Cravens said he eventually found what he was looking for. Not only did he secure a place to live, but he learned the do’s and don’ts of living abroad.

“It’s not the way you want to learn that lesson to do your due diligence before you go to a place, but I would say in the end it was beneficial,” he said.

The benefits outweighed the costs for Qiu as well. Although his first three hours in the U.S. were frightening, the experience strengthened his sense of self-reliance.

“You can’t just always live with your parents, and nobody can look after you for your whole life,” he said. “You should know how to take care of yourself.”

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