Thursday, June 18, 2015

3 Things That Surprised Me as an International Student in the U.S.

By Meghavaty Suresh
Contributing Writer

Much to the surprise of my friends here in the U.S., I was exposed to many American influences – from TV, to food, to pop culture – while growing up in urban India. So when I came here to study, I was confident that I would fit seamlessly into the American experience. However, there were a few things that took me by surprise. Remember that no matter how ready you think you are, expect an adjustment period when you start your journey to the west.

What am I supposed to call you, professor?

My favorite professor in the U.S. always made fun of me in class because I would begin or end every sentence with “professor.” He said that he did not need to be called professor all the time for him to understand that I respect him. He even said I could call him by his first name. It was a little unsettling to hear my classmates address my professor by his first name or just his last name and speak to him like he was more of a friend than a professor during class hours. But eventually, I realized that it’s just a way of speaking and it isn’t disrespectful to address your professor without reminding him that he is indeed a professor in every sentence. Research has been done about how students from different backgrounds prefer to address their teachers, and it varies quite a bit from one country to the next.

It’s Maaay gaaah, like mega but with an H.

I always knew that my name was going to be tough to pronounce here in the U.S. Some of my international classmates had a simple “English name” or nickname that they used, but I decided not to do that. I soon realized that sometimes it’s easier not to converse with a person with a tricky name rather than face the embarrassment of mispronouncing their name, especially in class during the early weeks. Honestly, I did the same with a few of my classmates from other countries whose names I could not get at all. So, I realized that it’s always better to be open during class introductions by making it easy for your classmates to pronounce your name, even if it means standing in front of your class and repeating the way your name is pronounced. Spell it out, people!

Good morning, and how are you today?

In many countries around the world, and especially in India, we don’t greet people we don’t know. Initially, I would walk around the university with my eyes on the ground, and if a stranger said anything to me, I would ignore it. Isn't it normal for parents to tell their kids not to talk to strangers? But in smaller towns (especially university towns) in the U.S., it is courteous to greet people (even strangers) and ask them how their day is going. Typically, if a stranger greets you, it doesn’t mean you’re being invited to have a long conversation – it’s just a friendly courtesy and a habitual mannerism. Just be careful of this habit when you’re in bigger cities like New York.

I’m sure each of you will have different things to add to this list. Even though “Friends” and all the other TV shows seem like they can prepare you for American culture, you will certainly be surprised in some ways. So keep an open mind and be ready to smile!
Meghavaty Suresh is from Mumbai, India and is passionate about digital content and communication. She holds a master's in new media management from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and an MBA from Mumbai University.

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