Thursday, April 23, 2015

Culture Shock: Adjusting to Life in the U.S.

By Mohsen Alzahrani
Student: Regis University

Leaving home to attend a college or university is a scary step, and leaving your home country can make it even worse. International students encounter many challenges as they adapt to their new lives. The biggest adjustments or difficulties involve language barriers and culture shock. The key to overcoming both of these challenges is facing them head on – and giving yourself a good head start.

International students may face language difficulties when they first arrive in the U.S. This is not surprising since many international students are visiting or living in an English-speaking country for the first time; now they’re in a situation where they have to speak English or risk becoming isolated. These students may have studied English in their home countries for years without entering a fully English environment where they had to speak and make conversation. Furthermore, the level of study that international students begin in the U.S. typically puts a greater linguistic burden on their shoulders. The demands of using English publically can cause students to lose their confidence and consequently feel alone.

Another challenge that many international students encounter is culture shock – a feeling of disorientation that can result from being immersed in a new way of life. Culture shock stems from the experiences of living in a new environment, dealing with new people and learning the ways of a new country. It also includes the shock of being separated from the important people in your life, such as family and friends. Many students find it difficult to adjust to the culture of their host country, and it can take a long time to feel comfortable in a new place.

However, there are many ways for international students to help themselves overcome language barriers and adjust to American culture. Students can prepare by taking English courses prior to moving to America. They should try to practice English outside the classroom so that they gain a sense of the spoken language. Listening to English-language TV and radio is another great way to learn English. Students should try to expose themselves to different accents, vocabularies and conversation topics as a means of developing a well-rounded knowledge of the language.

In terms of culture shock, international students need to learn in advance about the culture and social rules of a host country before they move there. This can be done in many different ways, such as listening to TV or reading newspapers and books. They should also keep in touch with their support network of family and friends back home – just not at the expense of their language development. They should limit their time speaking languages other than English. In addition, students should be open-minded; in other words, they should make an effort not to perceive anything that is different from their culture as "wrong."

Attending a university in the U.S is a dream for many international students. Unfortunately, this dream comes with many difficulties that we have to conquer. In my opinion, the adjustment process is an ongoing one that begins before you leave your home country – and continues long after you’ve arrived in the host nation.
Mohsen Alzahrani, who originally hails from Saudi Arabia, is pursuing a master's in teacher leadership at Regis University in Denver. Mohsen aspires to make an impact in the field of education and is expected to graduate in the summer of 2016.

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