Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cultural Challenges and Advice for New International Students

By Joseph Oguche
Student Ambassador, University of Maryland

As a newbie to the United States of America, one of the easiest discoveries you can make by just walking the streets is the fact that it is, undoubtedly, one of the most culturally diverse and dynamic countries in the world. In this diversity however, there is not only unity but also uniqueness, norms, standards and cultural realities that are particular to this beautiful society. These are cultural realities that international students in America must deal with and hence there is the need for a heads-up. Here are three basic challenges a new international students might confront and some helpful hints for dealing with them. These are borne of subjective experience.

What’s that Accent?

Unless you happen to be familiar with it, the first cultural challenge you will confront in America is the difference in spoken accent. Because an international student might be a speaker of the English language from their home country, it is easy to take for granted that there are differences in accent that affect comprehension. The fact is that it could be as hard for you to understand the American accent as it could be for your accent to be understood. The experience of being asked to repeat sentences one or more times by a listener who is having difficulty comprehending a grammatically correct but accentually strange sentence can be frustrating and can discourage the speaker from socializing and interacting.

My advice: Remember that many international students before you have had similar experiences and thrived. So don’t be discouraged. Instead, interact more and practice speaking slowly and distinctly, and ask the same of anyone speaking to you.

Don’t Starve!

This may more directly concern international students from Africa like me, but meal times are sacred times in African cultures – not just for their power to unite, but also for the diversity and nature of their content. America is rich in the fast food and burger culture, and this might be difficult to cope with as a beginner.

My advice: There are also lots of African restaurants out there; so don’t starve to death in your hall or apartment. Go out there, ask questions, check online, and yes, if you have an iPhone, talk to Siri – slowly and distinctly. (Editor’s Note: If you’re in a large enough American city, you’ll find great cuisine from all cultures!)

Freedom and the Law

America advocates for human freedom, but that freedom is guided by strict societal laws. Living in America means living with lots of laws, some of which may appear odd to a new student.

My advice: Obey all of them, whether they’re school or civil laws.

A few more pointers: It’s important to take advantage of all the new student orientations held at your school. Correspond with the international student office, don’t be shy about asking for advice and information, and build a solid and positive support group that draws from local students as well as international ones. Finally, participate actively in student groups – they will provide endless hints for survival!

Joseph Oguche, originally of Nigeria, is a social work master’s candidate at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology after graduation. He enjoys teaching, research and writing in the fields of social and human science.

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