An International College Student Experience

Nov 10, 2016Student Leadership Development Institute

By Kenan Rabah

Leaving your hometown and moving to the big city for college is a very big step and hard decision to make. However, imagine the struggle of these students who left their countries and moved to the other part of the earth, just to fulfill their dreams, get the education and experience they are seeking for.

Well, I am one of them! So let me tell you about my experience, shall I?!

My name is Kenan €¦I was born and raised in a small village in northern Israel called Majdal Shams, which is a part of the Golan Heights region. Growing up, I always wanted to be a chef. Perhaps the picture of my grandmother baking the bread on the woods, and the smell of it, is the most memorable, and significant memory from my childhood. Day by day, my passion for cooking and baking started to grow bigger and bigger, until I decided that this was the path I wanted to take and that would be my career. Of course, living in that community where people think that cooking should not be more than a wife preparing food for her husband and children, was challenging. People in Majdal Shams thought that I was crazy to move overseas and spend my money, just to be a chef. However, they didn €™t know that a chef presents passion, creativity, pleasure, and success. I kept my ears closed and stayed with my decision no matter what it was going to cost me. I also wanted to prove to these people that you can be successful without being a doctor, or engineer, and set an example for all the youngsters over there to follow their dreams and passion €¦despite what others may think. But, I was lucky enough to live with a very supportive family, who has always been there for me, to lift me up, and give the freedom to choose and be what I want to be.

I remember one day after my parents came back from their trip to the U.S.A, and my father came up to me with a college application from Philadelphia, and it was a huge surprise for me. I never thought I would go this far to achieve my goals! America was a dream for me and many friends, a place where opportunity, success, and fun exist, but it was too far. After many tries of contacting different colleges in France and Britain, I didn €™t find the best choice for me, and I was really upset and concerned about it. Without telling me, my dad called his friend who lives in Philadelphia and asked him about culinary colleges around. He told him about Walnut Hill College, and immediately looked the college up and called the admissions office to see what I needed to apply and get accepted. My dad handing me that application that night was probably the happiest moment of my life. Not just because that I am going to America, but wherever I go I will know that there is a great family who cares and loves me.

The process of getting my student visa, and getting ready to leave was really smooth, and there were no problems at all. The college admission rep, who I thank very much, helped me so much to make sure I had all it takes to pass the interview at the embassy, and always checking to see if everything went well. Feeling that the people at the college cared about me made me more comfortable and excited.
The big day was January 23rd 2015 €¦all my luggage was ready to go and there was just one last thing that had to be done before leaving, and for sure it was the hardest thing €¦saying the goodbyes. Saying goodbye to your friends who you spent the greatest times with, or your brothers, and sister who you lived, laughed, loved, and cried with €¦ or your mother or father who are your life €¦ is not easy at all. It felt like throwing everything you built away, and it is a tough feeling. Yes, I felt sad, and cried so much, but never felt that I wanted to give up and just go back. I knew that there was something so big and beautiful waiting for me, and my best days were ahead of me.

Finally, after a very long flight, I arrived to Philadelphia €¦the big city. It was a huge city with so many people, so many buildings €¦ like nothing I have seen before. It was a little bit scary at first especially that this was my first experience living in a big city. The next day I woke up, had my coffee with my dad (who came with me to make sure that everything was good before starting my classes) and got ready to go check out the college. I remember how amazed and happy I was when I first saw the college, especially the great European courtyard €¦I loved it, and all my fears and concerns just went away. My first term wasn €™t easy at all because everything was different and new in my life €¦new country, college, language, people, and even lifestyle, but with the help of all the chefs, instructors, college staff, and colleagues, I passed, and kept passing all the other terms, until I graduated with my Associate of Science degree in Culinary Arts in July of 2016.

Difficulties I faced during my program

1- As an international student who came to the United States with a student (f-1) visa, you should be aware that you are not eligible to work in the country, and from the other hand, the college policy requires the students to finish internship hours (total of 240 hours for culinary students) working in restaurants or food corporations. But DO NOT WORRY! There is always a way to make it happen. You are allowed however, to do a non-paid internship, where you work and get experience in change (that €™s what I did), or you can finish your internship hours at the college €™s restaurant. Moreover, you can always fill out an application (i-756) that will allow you to work 20 hours a week during your program and 40 hours a week during breaks. All this information I got from the Vice President of Administrative Services, Ms. Peggy Liberatoscioli. She really did and continues to do her best to help me and make sure all my documents and files are good.

2- Walnut Hill College provide the culinary and pastry students a week-long trip to France after finishing the Associate degree, and for the management students a trip to the Bahamas. If you decided to finish the bachelors program as well, (that I highly recommend) you will also be going on a trip to England. These trips are to make sure you get a great learning experience at the top places, in hospitality industry. That might be challenging for the international students because you might need a visa to travel to any of these places, and that would take a little extra time and work from you, but believe me, it €™s totally worth your time and effort.

Check out the Tour of France, England, and the Bahamas here!
3- As an international student coming to any city in the U.S.A., you will see that there is huge cultural diversity like nowhere else, so you will be expected to pay very close attention to how you treat other people from different cultures because something acceptable in your culture might not be in others.

My overall experience at Walnut Hill College has been the best one in my life! No doubt that it was challenging in so many levels at first, but here I am, just finished my Associate degree, came back for my bachelors, and I was really honored to be selected as part of the Student Leadership Development Institute! The Student Leadership Development Institute has also been an amazing learning experience not just for my career and professional life, but for my personality and how to be a good leader and set a good example for others in every decision you make and action you take!

-Kenan Rabah, Student Leader
Culinary Arts, Class of March 2018