America, a country seen by other nations as a world power, has for many reasons attracted millions of international students to come and further their education. These students come with many expectations and the hope that America is what they really imagined it to be.
They are often shocked with how the American culture varies from their previous way of life. The mode of dress, the credit cards, health and auto insurance, taxes, American English, the educational system, social security numbers, college cliques, bills and deadlines are largely foreign to the international community.
More often than not, these cores of American culture differ greatly from the culture and way of life that most international students are used to, therefore they tend to have a hard time adjusting. But somehow they do it, and are often able to maintain their own culture amidst social pressures to conform.
“Coming to America from a different country can be somewhat of a culture shock,” said Christopher Chileshe, the President of the International Student Council. “America is viewed as a land of opportunity and prosperity, which is an accurate description, but like all things, achieving the latter is defined by an individual’s hard work and commitment to accomplishing their goals,” Chileshe said.
Being far away from home, most international students face challenges with getting jobs and scholarships to help sustain their schooling experience, but despite these obstacles, international students have found ways to properly adjust to American culture.
Although it was easy for Chileshe to adjust in the United States, he discovered new traditions in the U.S. culture which were entirely different from those of his home country of Belgium.
“One thing I have had to get used to is not kissing on the cheek as a greeting; Americans keep to themselves out of politeness and close proximity in the early stages of a relationship are considered invasive,” Chileshe said.
Chileshe advises to avoid invading someone’s personal bubble even in casual conversations because distance is appreciated. Chileshe noticed that the American culture differs greatly in regards to proximity and physical contact, which is often casually exchanged in Belgium and also commonly amongst Africans.
Forming organizations and clubs that provide a sense of belonging is one way that international students have been able to uphold their traditions while adapting to American culture.
“Another great resource is the international center at UVU,” said Chileshe. “They are able to provide students with assistance and aid in making them feel at home here, and this, coupled with cultural events hosted in conjunction with the International Student council, tends to help international students adjust to the American culture and at the same time maintain and reconnect with their own cultures.”
This weekly column will spotlight an international student each week, giving them an opportunity to give the world valuable information regarding their home culture. It will not only enlighten the students, faculty and staff of UVU about other cultures, but it will also give firsthand information about food, fashion, literature, music and art in other countries.
“I think diversity is a great asset especially in a university setting,” said Chileshe, who feels that greater international presence will help eliminate prejudices and misinterpretations, and hopefully promote understanding and tolerance.