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caption: Mai Nguyen from Vietnam leads the Shoreline Community College Ukulele Club in a song. 
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Mai Nguyen from Vietnam leads the Shoreline Community College Ukulele Club in a song.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Aurora Bridge Crash: International Students Far From Family, But Not Alone

Seattle-area community college students are planning a vigil this week to remember the five international students who lost their lives on the Aurora Bridge. That’s just one example of how students here help each other. Foreign students are thousands of miles away from their families, but they’re not alone.

Diana Sampson travels all over the world, recruiting students for Shoreline Community College.

“A U.S. education helps students to think critically,” she said.

People around the world believe that. Sampson said that once at a college fair in Nepal, a crowd pressed around her, 10 people deep.

“It was just packed and crowded with people around our table with people looking in and trying to talk to us, one by one," she said. "It’s very exciting.”

Last year, over 18,000 students at Washington’s community colleges were from a foreign country. And the number is growing every year.

Parents do ask questions about safety, Sampson said.

“But Seattle is one of the safest places to live and study,” she added.

Families all around the world weigh the risks and rewards, and many of them choose to send their kids here. Extended families will scrape together their resources to invest in one child’s education in the U.S.

“And in many cases, this may be your only child and your hopes and dreams,” Sampson said.

That puts a lot of pressure on a young student. Minh Vo came to Shoreline Community College from Vietnam.

“I understand that when you send your daughter, your child, far away from you, a thousand miles away from you, you hope the best for them, but …,” she said.

Vo’s first quarter at here didn’t go so well.

“I was really scared, I don’t want to do anything, I just want to sit in my room and do my homework, go to school and go back to home,” she said.

Colleges like Shoreline work hard to reach students like this. They offer field trips to see the sites around Seattle.

Older students, like Winston Lee from Hong Kong, teach them how to navigate this culture. Even things like negotiating over a used-car price.

“Those sellers are maybe not friendly to our international students,” Lee said.

He advises them: “Stick with your principle.”

Then there are the extracurricular classes, like a ukulele class at Shoreline. Most of the students are from foreign countries.

All that outreach helps international students feel safe.

“It changed me in every way,” Vo said.

Vo, the student who sat alone in her room, now has a strong network of friends at Shoreline Community College.

“You know that you are not alone in your fight," she said. "You have other people surround you.”

Those friends come from all over the world.

“It’s surprising that we just talk the same language, we have the same path, or we even, like, laugh about the same joke. It’s really cool,” she said.