Within two days of buying his 2006 Hyundai Sonata car, Tianhao Zhu got pulled over twice. 

The first time, he paid $139 for forgetting to turn on his headlights, and the second time he had to blow in a device to test his blood alcohol level, stand on one leg and count from 1000. He asked the cop if he could count in his “mother tongue,” and he passed both the tests and was let off with a warning. 

Some international students find themselves wanting to get a car and a license in the United States, and the process for international students to obtain driver’s licenses isn’t as complicated as one might think. 

Zhu, a graduate student studying food and nutrition sciences, wanted a car because of all the hills in Athens. Riding a bike was exhausting and dangerous at night, Zhu, who is from Shanghai, China, said. 

Zhu went to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Athens and picked up a booklet with all the traffic rules. After he passed the computer portion, he signed up to take the driving test. Borrowing a friend’s SUV, he hit a cone during maneuverability and failed the driver’s test twice before passing. 

“Because I’ve been driving for four years, I had a lot of bad habits, especially in big cities,” Zhu said. 

In her experience, Ashley Chong, a junior studying forensic chemistry, said the BMV lets international students use their own countries’ driver’s licenses as a permit before obtaining their U.S. license. Because of this, many international students don’t have to pay for a separate driving permit before getting their license. 

International students must present a valid passport, visa, i-94, DS2019 or I-20 forms before getting their driver’s permit, according to Ohio BMV’s website

Chong, who is from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, wanted to get her license because she didn’t want to carry her Malaysian passport with her. 

“You don’t want to have to carry your passport around, because for internationals if you lose your passport there’s going to be a long process to get a new one,” Chong said. “At least if you lose your ID, it’s just an ID. But a passport is like your ticket out of the country and into the country. It’s a big thing.”

Chetra Chap, who is from Kampot, Cambodia, got his license back in January 2016. Chap, a graduate student studying media arts and studies, thought the computer test was common sense. After he passed the test, he used his Cambodian driver’s license as a permit to practice.

The driver’s test in Ohio was easier than the one he took in Cambodia, where Chap had to know how to shift gears while going uphill. In Ohio, all he had to do was park, drive around, stop at stop signs and follow the speed limit. 

“I didn’t practice driving much because I already knew how to drive,” Chap said. “I just need to get familiar with the streets because the way people drive here, switching lanes (and) turning lanes, I think that is quite different from most countries.” 

The multiple-lane system was confusing for Chap at first, as his town in Cambodia didn’t have many lanes on a road. If you take the wrong lane, Chap said, you could easily end up going somewhere you don’t want to go and it could take you awhile to get back on track. 

Taiman Siddiqui, who is from Dhaka, Bangladesh, is planning to get his driver’s license this month. Siddiqui, a graduate student studying computer engineering, said he could use the driver’s license as an ID instead of his passport, but he thinks it is difficult to find a car to borrow. 

“There are some people who have cars, but they also have to be with me because I don’t have a license,” Siddiqui said. “I need to have them stay with me or take me there for the road test.” 

Siddiqui isn’t nervous to take his driving test since he’s been driving with a temporary license and feels comfortable behind the wheel. 

Chong took the driver’s test and passed, but the instructor had told her she was a hesitant driver. In Malaysia, drivers are told the safest way to drive is to go slowly, Chong said. 

“But here, don’t hesitate,” she said. “Here, it’s just, ‘do it, be confident.’”



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