The University of Iowa

First-year student Emily Gumal on her experience as an international student at the UI

December 14th, 2018

Emily Gumal

Hometown:  Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia

Field of study:  English & creative writing; dance

How did you choose the University of Iowa?

I chose the University of Iowa because it is the best in the U.S. for creative writing. It also has a really strong dance program; it is in the top 20 for dance in the country, so the University of Iowa is a place where I can improve and grow in my two greatest passions.

Are you involved in student activities/organizations on campus?

I’m involved in quite a few student organizations, but not as many as I’d like due to the enormity of performances that I am involved in. Since coming to Iowa, I have been cast in four productions: Iphigenia Point Blank (a film opera), Collaborative Performance (a joint production between the dance, theatre, and music departments), Crash Dance Production (a 20-minute dance production) and an Afro-Cuban Dance Production (organized by external artists). Aside from the performances, I am involved in many student organizations including Admissions Bloggers (the official blogging site for select University of Iowa students), International Student Ambassadors (the official student liaisons with prospective international students), Undergraduate Dance Organization (the official liaisons between the faculty of the dance department and the dance students) and Ballet Club (a newly-created ballet dance club for both experienced and inexperienced dancers). Next year, I hope to join Ink Lit Magazine (the University of Iowa publication that I have gotten published in) and maybe even get a job!

How do you feel the University of Iowa is helping to prepare you for the future?

I feel as though the university is a mini version of the world. It’s teaching me how to be responsible with organizing time (my schedule is very busy, but fun at the same time, so I have to plan carefully to have time to do homework, eat, sleep, and so on). It’s also teaching me to be an adult; I have to be careful when I’m choosing activities that I want to do because there are so many options that I’m split for choice! Being here has really taught me to pick my priorities and choose what I want to spend time on. 

Have you discovered any new favorite foods since coming to the U.S.?

Totally! Since coming to the U.S., I have fallen in love with roasted sweet potatoes with honey butter. They are offered at all the dining halls occasionally and as a vegetarian and a dancer who likes to eat healthily, they are great! Aside from that, I really like the zucchini pesto noodles offered just downtown from the University of Iowa. Yum! 

Do you ever get homesick? 

Yes. I would be lying if I said that I never got homesick. The time that I most felt homesick was Thanksgiving, when everyone was going home to their families and I was going to be staying in the dorms, fairly alone. Most of my friends had gone back with their roommates or to visit relatives. But I kept busy during Thanksgiving; I baked amazing pies and tarts with an Iowan friend of mine, practiced dance at Halsey Hall, and went to Coralville to watch Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald (as a huge Harry Potter fan, that was a fantastic treat!), Skyped my family, and met some kind hosts for international students…. It was a great break in the end despite the initial homesick feeling. My advice for getting over homesickness would be to keep busy and you’ll forget it because you’re having fun. 

How have the International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) office/staff supported you?

ISSS has been great. During that Thanksgiving week break, they offered a luncheon for us international students to celebrate Thanksgiving and not be alone during that week when most people were gone. Besides that, they reply promptly to emails if you have questions to ask. I have emailed the ISSS office twice since arriving with questions about jobs and summer courses and on both occasions have gotten a response the very next day. They are very efficient and happy to help the students. 

Do you have any advice for future international students?

One piece of advice that I have for future international students is that you should really just try everything you can and want to, both at the University of Iowa and in life in general. On my very first day of university life, I was a nervous wreck going into all of my classes, particularly my dance classes. But I discovered that there was an audition that very evening. I was super nervous going into it, but my mantra was, “What’s the worst that can happen? They say ‘No’.” So I went for the audition. I didn’t get it, but I did get the third audition that I went for, which coincidentally happened to be on my birthday! This was Iphigenia Point Blank, a film opera, that is a joint production between the dance, theatre, and music departments and external professional artists who are going to New York City to perform the film opera that we created! The moral of the lesson is: persistence is key! You can do it! I’m rooting for you!  

 Learn more about Emily's experiences at the University of Iowa: