Brandywine international students create diverse campus culture

Three Penn State Brandywine students from China and Kenya discuss the challenges and rewards of international studentship
Wambui and Li

Penn State Brandywine international students Yiyuan Li (left) and Peris Wambui Wamoni. 

Credit: Michael McDade

MEDIA, Pa. — For Peris Wambui Wamoni, a Kenyan international student, arriving at Penn State Brandywine was the realization of a lifelong desire. “I always knew I wanted to study abroad,” she said. “I don’t think I have ever pursued something as passionately in my life.”

While in high school, Wamoni searched “top engineering schools in the United States” online and found a list of universities including Penn State. 

“I was originally accepted to University Park, but then I learned about Penn State’s 2+2 Program,” said Wamoni, a biomedical engineering major. “For me, it made more sense to start at Brandywine. The campus’s resources are really helpful and I’m having a great time. I’m so glad I started here!”

Wamoni is one of many international students at Penn State Brandywine, all of whom hail from unique cultural and educational backgrounds. Each international student also has a unique reason for choosing to study in the United States and at Penn State specifically.

Kan Wu, an international student who grew up in Japan and China, was encouraged to study abroad by his parents, who sent him to the U.S. as a high schooler. When he sent out his college applications, his first offer of acceptance came from Penn State Brandywine.

“Brandywine chose me, so why not?” Wu said. “Since Brandywine is a smaller campus, I think it’s been easier for me to adjust. The professors take the time to get to know each student, which makes it easy to communicate.”

For Yiyuan Li, an accounting major from China, international study was a practical decision. “Business today is very global, so I want to have some experience in another country and improve my English,” she said. Li moved to Canada with her mother as a high school student and just recently moved to the U.S. to attend Penn State Brandywine. 

Li, Wu and Wamoni all agree that international studentship, while rewarding, has its own set of challenges.

“The biggest challenge for me is being away from home,” said Wamoni. “When you immerse yourself in a foreign culture, you can’t escape unfamiliarity. It’s fun during the day, but in the evening, you sometimes just want to go home and be in your own room.”

For Li and Wu, the greatest challenge has been language and culture differences. “English is not my first language,” Li said, “so when some people talk too fast, I have difficulty catching up.”

“Sometimes our cultures are different, too,” said Wu, “When I was young, I was taught not to look at a teacher’s eyes because it is disrespectful — but here, teachers actually want me to look them in the eye. It took some time to get used to that.”

Despite the setbacks of language, culture and unfamiliarity, all three students agree that their experience at Penn State Brandywine has been vastly positive.

“Speaking English is actually kind of cool for me now,” Wu said. “Traveling abroad is difficult, but it’s worth it. You will have language and culture challenges, but it’s a good experience.”

“My experiences here, even the difficult ones, have made me a better person and a stronger woman,” said Wamoni. “Studying abroad has to be something you’re truly passionate about, since it is a real sacrifice. The experience you gain cannot be surmounted by anything.”

According to Li, students can also prepare themselves for international study.

“You can talk to people in the country or get involved in campus activities,” she suggested. “You can also watch movies from that country to learn the language and culture. A huge part of how I learned English was watching Disney cartoons and listening to songs.”

Li, Wu and Wamoni all hold campus leadership roles. Li serves as secretary of Brandywine’s Phi Beta Lambda chapter, Wu spearheaded the Chinese New Year event through the Multicultural Club, and Wamoni serves as president of the Multicultural Club and diversity chair of the Student Government Association.

All three students feel that campus involvement has enhanced their Brandywine experience and challenged them to be better leaders both at home and abroad.

“I feel like I’ve been charged with such an important responsibility, especially now while the world is in such turmoil,” said Wamoni. “That might sound dramatic, but really our world is so negative. As a club leader, I want to remind people that differences are meant to bring us together, not to tear us apart. We’re all different. It’s not a sin, it’s the fun part of life!”