Perspectives of an International Student in San Francisco

By: Janisara Katanyutaveetip

Before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Janisara Katanyutaveetip. I get asked about my name all the time because it’s long and hard to pronounce. I will make things easier for you: just call me “Janis”. I’m an international student from Bangkok, Thailand. I lived there almost my whole life until I decided to come to San Francisco as an international student. I chose to major in journalism because I didn’t want to deal with Math and Science, and I loved to read.

The truth is, I did not think much about what it was going to be like to study in San Francisco. I just thought that it was going to be a lot of fun and everything was going to be fine. After a year as an international student at SF State, I thought to myself: Why am I here?

To be honest with you, studying journalism is like being in a different world for me. I’m not a talkative person and all I wanted was to be home and read books all day long, but all I have been doing here so far is going out and talking to strangers.

The most frustrating thing for me is the language. Although I can speak, read, and write in English. Sometimes I feel frustrated when I want to express my feelings, tell people what I’m thinking. I mean, I know exactly what I want to say, I just cannot find the right words to say it in English. So, instead of saying it out loud, I just keep quiet and listen to others most of the time.
Since attending SF State, I have been trying really hard to speak up in order to fit in with other people. I later realized that it is not just about the language barrier, looking back to my childhood, I have always been a quiet and hardworking student. In Thai school, we are taught to be quiet when the teacher is speaking, “don’t ask, and just do things,” as the teacher says.

Things are so different here. Free speech is everywhere. You can say whatever you want, wherever you want to, which is not entirely good and not entirely bad. I remember walking through downtown and seeing a random man just yelling out profanities. Everyone seemed okay with it, but I had so much fear knowing that in Thailand that person could have easily been thrown in jail. But, free speech is one of the most valuable assets here in America. The good part of free speech is that you can truthfully critique whatever or whoever you want to, which is very uncommon in Thailand. We have so much to say, but we would rather not get into any trouble.

Although the experience has been difficult, being far from home has taught me so much that I would have never learned back home. First, I have learned to be more open to new people and experiences. Looking back through my childhood, I was raised in a very protected environment, which made me see the world differently.. Just to give you some examples, I used to stick with my nanny all the time. She even sat in class with me throughout my kindergarten years because I would start crying if she was out of my sight. Although I’m from Bangkok, a very busy capital city of Thailand, my mom wouldn’t let me ride on public transportation.

When I landed in San Francisco, it was a whole new world.

I would have never gone up to a stranger to strike a conversation, it just seemed so weird to me. Journalism gave me no option and I had to go out and do it. I still feel weird when I do it, but I constantly remind myself that the work needs to get done.

Now you might be thinking; “if things are easier back home, then why are you here?”

Trust me, I constantly ask myself this question. In fact, I still don’t have the answer for it. If you ask my parents I bet they would say something like, “It’s a great opportunity to study abroad because you get to practice English communication skills, which is a major advantage in Thailand” and if you ask my grandmother, she would say I was lucky because not everyone gets the opportunity to study abroad like I do.

I keep those phrases in mind, but the thought of giving up and going back home still comes up way too many times. The only thing that keeps me going is this phase that repeatedly runs in my head, “I can’t let anyone down. Don’t worry Mommy, I won’t let you down.”

I know that every international student has different experiences being here in America. Some may have clear purposes of why they are here and what they want to pursue in life. I guess I’m just one of those people still trying to figure things out along the way.

Now that I’m nine months away from graduation, I would like to say that I’m grateful to have a chance to experience what it’s like to get out of my comfort zone, do things that I have never done, and be able to come so far from where I was. With all the difficulties, I have learned so many valuable lessons that I would have never learned back home.

What I would like you, the reader, to get out of reading my experience is to realize that there is so much stuff out there that you may not know about. There are people on the other side of the world, experiencing things that you have never known or heard of. Studying in America changed my perspectives of how I see the world in so many ways. I hope this inspires you to go out and see what you might be missing. You might be able to grow to see the world through a different perspective like I do.