International students and the challenges with American social norms

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UVU is poised to receive a fresh batch of international students for the 2018 Spring semester. With the expected advantages of inclusion and diversity, not to mention the revenue the school stands to gain from the international students, it is easy to overlook the challenges these incoming students will face as new arrivals in America. One of these challenges that often escapes attention is the difficulty international students face with the social etiquette of America.

According to Steve Crook, UVU’s director of International Student Services, there are about 1000 international students at UVU. These students are managed by UVU International Student Services, which is part of the Center for Global and Intercultural Engagement. The ISS, according to its homepage, “provides visa information, employment advice and academic advisement to the university’s international students.” Every semester, the ISS organizes an orientation specifically for incoming international students where they provide, according to the website, “a wide array of support services designed to promote the academic success of international students.” These services are great and quite necessary, but they focus mainly on the academic aspect of student life. What is missing, and what many international students would find helpful, is an advisory session on the social norms of America or Utah.

What sort of compliments are appropriate in the workplace or to a classmate? What language, mode of dressing, or eye contact can one adopt without offending? How does one successfully go about accepting, rejecting or proposing a date from a prospective partner? These questions might seem trivial, but it would be interesting to know how many international students have been reported to the school’s title IX office, or to the police, for inappropriate advances or for stalking. Many international students aren’t even aware that they could end up in jail simply because they took someone’s “no” as a call to be more convincing or persistent with advances.

The state of social life at UVU is already far from what it should be, perhaps because of the university’s non-traditional educational system and the lack of student dorms. There are presently very few opportunities for interactions that foster friendship and social relations among UVU students. As such, it is not likely that international students would learn the prevailing social etiquette by relying on associations at UVU.

The International Student Services office is of great help to international students, at least in terms of helping the students achieve academic excellence, but it is also necessary that incoming international students be advised on American social rules of interaction. This would help prevent unintentional offense from international students and also make it easier for them to form and enjoy lasting relationships with other students.