International students are a-flocking to the United States of America and a fresh perspective has them highlighting aspects of the culture that may have passed you by as normal.
According to the Open Doors report published by the Institute of International Education, 723,277 international students picked up books, laptops, pipettes and calculators to study in the U.S. during the 2010/2011 academic year — a record high, a 5% increase on the previous year and the fifth consecutive year that this number increased.
“Definitely over the last twelve years, the number of applications has just continued to grow and grow,” said Kristin Crosby, director of international recruitment at Washington & Jefferson College. “After 9/11 there was a slight dip in application numbers, but then it climbed back up.”
Students come seeking spots at universities with significant resources and well-known professors, the opportunity to explore their interests through a liberal arts education, independence, cultural expansion and, in some cases, freedom of thought and expression.
In turn, they increase diversity of thought and culture on college campuses, introducing new points of view to American students. And although students from other countries often stand out as the ones with unusual customs, it can be easy to forget American culture can seem just as foreign.
This begs the question: what do international eyes see when they open on U.S. campuses and what does that illustrate about American culture that usually goes unnoticed?
In general, students appreciate the openness of the classroom environment in the U.S. and find that professors’ helpful attitudes contrast with conventions in their own countries.
“Here, they share their experience, they share their ideas, ” said Hla Hpone ‘Jack’ Myint, a Burmese freshman at Washington & Jefferson, explaining that teachers at home usually stick very closely to textbooks and expect students to stay quiet. “It is a sign of respect to stay silent, but here it is totally different. You have to speak up. They give you points for speaking up.”
He also appreciates the range of available courses.
“Right now I say I’m majoring in political science and government, but I’m taking German, I’m doing acting,” said Myint. “Have I mentioned English literature already?”
Daniel Toro, a Colombian freshman at Princeton University, was surprised to see a student show up to class in pajamas and others arriving at parties in sweatpants and t-shirts.
“People here have no problem with that,” he said. “In Colombia, people without exception would dress up. The way you dress and the way you present yourself shows some respect.”
“The sweatpant culture. That doesn’t exist in other places,” said Isabel Khoo, an Australian senior at Brown University. She says she endured the usual mixups — the use of “thongs” instead of “flip flops,” for example — but what most stood out to her was the tendency to accumulate stuff.
“It’s three months and then you get to go home,” she said, explaining that she knows people who have brought couches — and even their cats — to college.
And as for socializing outside school hours…
“I thought the American Pie version of things was an exaggeration,” said Blair Cameron, a senior from New Zealand now studying at Brown University, explaining that he was surprised to see that red Solo cups were indeed the norm.
He was also shocked by the drinking culture, which is less casual and more extreme than he was accustomed to.
“The notion I had of the States was propaganda. McDonalds and fat people,” said Toro, explaining that he found the reality on campus to be different. “People here are very athletic.”
That said, some students expressed surprise at the size of American portions and the amount (and quality) of food in the dining halls.
“I really like the food. I think I even gained some weight,” said Myint, laughing at references to the Freshman Fifteen. “But when I said this to a junior she laughed and said, ‘You say that now. You wait a semester.’”
Many students noticed how friendly people were on campus, but in some cases, it took a little acclimatizing to make that feel normal.
“Everywhere, you see people saying, ‘Hi, how you doing,’ but in Burma we don’t really do that unless we know someone,” said Myint. “We don’t say, hey, how you doing. It’s just weird.”
@USATODAYcollege @sofia_castello when American ppl say how are you? They don’t really care. Why not just say hi instead?
The collection of answers above is only a small fraction of the variety out there. What experiences have you had, either as an American or an international student?
Add to the conversation! Comment or tweet @USATodayCollege using #StudentCultureShock
Powered by Facebook Comments