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International Students Have an Advocate in Eunyoung Rhee-Murphy

International students have a new advocate—and expert guide—at MMC: Eunyoung Rhee-Murphy, who came on board this semester as the College’s assistant director of international student services. She’ll be a key resource for international students from the moment they apply, helping them get their Form I-20, which proves that an international student has been admitted to a full-time program of study, obtain the all-important F-1 student visa, and navigate life in the U.S.

It’s a role that has become increasingly important: MMC’s international students, who hail from more than 40 countries, make up about 2 percent of the student body. However, their numbers are expected to grow as the College renews its international recruitment efforts, which had been scaled back during the pandemic.

Rhee-Murphy, a South Korean native who earned her master’s degree in NYC, is uniquely suited to assist students who travel across the world to study at MMC. Not only has she spent the last several years as an international student counselor, but “I was an F-1 student myself and deeply understand their situation,” she said. “It can be overwhelming dealing with a new country and new city, and I’m happy to be able to help—not just with paperwork, but mentally and emotionally.”

We asked Rhee-Murphy about the international student experience and her message for students calling the U.S. home for the first time.

Being an international student has its joys and challenges. What do you remember most from your own experience?
I was slightly older than most of our students—I was in my 20s at the time. I’d been doing graphic design in South Korea when I traveled to Chicago to visit a friend studying there. It was my first trip to the U.S., and I thought, oh my goodness, this is a different world. It’s so different from Korea! I had never really considered studying in a different country before, but my friend, a painter, was in a master’s program that looked really cool. So, I talked it over with one of my old professors in Korea, and they suggested that I study in New York. I enrolled in a master’s program for Graphic Communication Management and Technology at NYU.

It was a valuable experience, but there were some difficulties. Communicating was probably the hardest part. We didn’t speak English in Korea, and few foreigners live there. So I was learning the language—but everyone spoke so fast that I had trouble keeping up! The classroom dynamics were also very different from what I was used to. In Korea, we mainly just listen to our professors’ lectures. But here, it’s more of a student-centered environment, with more class discussion and analysis. Initially, I was very shy about speaking up and sharing my thoughts. I also didn’t understand how the streets worked—I had the hardest time finding West 4th before someone told me I was standing on it! And ultimately, I was alone in New York—my only friend in the country was in Chicago—which made my first semester difficult.

But things improved over time, and I stayed in the country for four years, studying and working. When I returned to Korea, I was a totally different person. I had matured so much, and I was much more confident, independent, and open to trying new things. My mother and friends would point it out to me. I think MMC’s international students will also find that they’ve grown from their time here; there is so much to be gained.

It sounds like your days as an international student had an enormous impact on your life.
It’s one of the reasons I changed my career. When I returned to Korea, I taught for a bit at a local college, and so many students had questions about visiting and living in New York that I often found myself advising them. I returned to the U.S. after I married my husband, who’s an American, and eventually moved from working in visual communications and multimedia to counseling international students. I thought my experiences could help them, and helping others makes me happy.

You’ve had a wide range of professional experiences: You worked in graphic design and for an art gallery before becoming a student counselor. Does your interest in art and design make you feel more at home at MMC?
The first time I came to campus, I was so happy to see ballet dancers, hear classical music playing, and view art in the Hewitt Gallery and the Judith Mara Carson Center for Visual Arts. I thought, oh my God, I like this school. But more than anything, I was attracted to MMC because of its strong sense of community. I feel so comfortable here.

We often ask new members of our community to tell us a fun fact about themselves. Is there one you’d like to share?
I’m a big sports fan. I love the Knicks. My husband teases me because I’m so short, but I love basketball. I also love the Yankees—my younger brothers were crazy about baseball and got me into it.

What message do you want to share with international students?
I hope they’ll reach out to me because I look forward to meeting them! Every Thursday, from 1-2 p.m., the Intercultural Center and the Counseling and Wellness Center hold an event called International Student Connect. I’ll be introducing myself at the April 4 session, so stop by and say hello! (There will be pizza!) Sign up on Engage.

Besides that, I would encourage international students to challenge themselves, get out there, seek out internships, and join student clubs, even if they’re feeling shy or perhaps their English isn’t strong.

As an international student, I applied for a summer internship at MOMA. You had to write a paper to apply, and I didn’t think my writing was very good, but I worked hard and got the position. It made me feel so confident and happy. You never know if you don’t try. NYC and MMC have so many opportunities, and there’s no such thing as failure—any experience you have will help you grow.

Published: March 27, 2024