The International Student Experience

As an international student from Kenya, my Amherst experience can be different or challenging in ways that domestic students, and even professors and faculty, sometimes don’t understand or aren’t aware of. 

Now, before I dig into some of the changes and hurdles that were particularly significant for me, I should emphasize that this is my experience. Not all international students will have these experiences, and not every international student will navigate Amherst the way I did. 

Let’s get to it! 

A display of international flags at Amherst College.

Language/accent barrier: 

Even after going to high school in the U.S. for four years, when I arrived at Amherst, I did sometimes find myself struggling to understand and be understood in class discussions, club meetings or chats with friends. It is important to realize that it isn’t anyone’s fault. It wasn’t mine, but it wasn’t everyone else’s either. 

How I dealt with this varied from person to person. As for my professors, I made sure to always ask them to clarify when need be. If it was a small point I missed in class, I voiced it at the moment, but if it was a bigger concept, I used office hours and communicated through emails. Professors will not help you if you don’t reach out to them (they’re not mind-readers!), so it is important you let them know. 

It does take a while to warm up to your friends’ accents and for them to warm up to yours, so, honestly, all you can do is give it time and be patient with each other while keeping a level of honesty and transparency.

American culture gaps: 

I grew up in Kenya for my whole life, and we definitely didn’t learn about American history, trends, politics, etc. Now, I do realize I had more of an advantage than other international students since I did experience high school life here, but it goes without saying that one can’t learn all there is to know about America by only living there during the school year. There were times, as such, I didn’t know much about American history in class or lagged behind on American social trends. My solution for this was simply to ask myself if domestic students would know all about Kenya if they were to start studying there. And the answer is: definitely not. 

I realized that if there was a piece of important American history that I needed for class, my professors were going to teach me that. But besides that, I didn’t have to love Taylor Swift (amazing artist, btw), I didn’t have to know what was trending, and I most definitely didn’t have to be fluent in American culture. 

Was I willing to learn? Yes, but that didn’t mean forcing down a bunch of information in order to fit in—it meant being open-minded about America and learning about it at my own pace, no pressure. 


You will never be fully prepared for them. People will tell you how cold winter is, how hot summer can get, or even how beautiful fall is (my favorite season), but you will never be fully prepared for it until you experience it. I mostly mean mentally prepared, but being physically prepared is much easier. Make sure to have a well-rounded wardrobe. It is not smart to think that you can definitely wear clothes you used to keep warm in freezing temperatures in the hot humid air; that is just impossible—at least, for me it was. 

But with seasons come more than just temperatures. Learn about yourself throughout those seasons. They might affect your emotions in different ways, for example. So, over that first year, take notes to emotionally prepare you for the next time.

Educating others: 

You are from a different place, and so are many people on campus. The whole idea of diversity is for people to learn about each other’s differences and tell others about theirs, so it goes without saying that you will be in an environment where people will be curious to learn about your way of life and you will be curious to learn about others. Keep an open mind, help others get to know you, and be as patient with others as you would love for them to be with you. 

However, it is not your job to make people with mean questions feel validated in the name of educating others. (I haven’t experienced this at all, so Amherst for me is doing a great job so far.) It is always OK to draw a boundary to how much information you want to share and don’t let anyone cross that boundary out of pressure. It is, at the end of the day, your story, so you decide how you want to share it. Your own pace is best. 

I hope that this post has inspired you to keep an open mind while unapologetically being you. Thank you for your time. :)

Each academic year, several current students blog for Amherst's Office of Admission. These blogs are meant to offer “perspectives to prospectives,” so that applicants can get a sense of the College. The blog post shared here was written in the summer of 2023. Martha Odhiambo ’26 is considering declaring a double major in math and political science. She is from Nairobi, Kenya, and is fluent in three languages: English, Luo and Swahili. She is part of the Black Student Union, African and Caribbean Student Union, Remnant and Amherst Christian Fellowship. Like many other students, Odhiambo took a while to adjust her first year. “Losing one’s balance doesn’t mean losing oneself,” she wrote in another blog post. “It just means taking a deep breath and finding a balance that works even better for you.” She also says the vanilla milkshakes at the Science Center Café are “the best ones ever.”