Thursday, August 6, 2015

3 Things I Wish I Knew About the U.S. Before Studying There

By Oluwaseyi Oni
Student Ambassador, Emory University

I’m about to start graduate school at Emory University in Atlanta, and I’ve never been more grateful that I learned the valuable lessons that I did the last time I was in the United States as a visiting student. As you read this, I hope you learn these lessons vicariously, rather than making these mistakes yourself. Experience, they say, is not always the best teacher.

The widely African culture of respect creates a chasm between the teacher and student, so the friendly attitude of American professors took me by surprise. For example, the medical students in my school in Ghana were required to always wear lab coats whenever they were at the hospital. But on my first day as a visiting pediatric cardiology student, you can imagine my disbelief when I asked my professor if I should put on my lab coat and he replied, “I don’t put one on, so I really don’t expect you to; you can wear it if you want to.” 

Furthermore, I hate drawing attention to myself, so most of the time I maintained my distance and didn’t ask enough questions or go the extra mile in seeking help from a professor for anything. After I completed my electives and returned to Ghana, I belatedly realized that I could have done more to take advantage of the availability and friendliness of my professors during my elective program.

Moreover, I got to know a lot of other people during my short stay in the U.S. that could have been of great help to me career-wise. I met many doctors, several public health professionals, and other exceptional people, but I did not maintain contact with any of them because I was unfamiliar with the concept of networking. I later decided to develop and maintain valuable connections with people from my everyday life. If there is one thing I can personally say about Americans, it's that they are generally very friendly and approachable. I have resolved to enjoy this aspect of American culture moving forward.

Finally, I have learned to be conscious of the difference in date formats and metric units used in the U.S. compared to the rest of the world. For instance, August 11, 2015 is written as 8/11/15 in the U.S., and 11/8/15 elsewhere. I experienced slight confusion in this area once, when I misinterpreted the age of a child born, say, on 11th April, 2011, written as 4/11/11. I expected a few months’ old baby and instead saw a toddler almost one year old! In medicine, a few months’ age difference in a child is significant.

There are other ways in which the American way of life differs from that of other countries, such as their healthcare system. It is a good idea for incoming international students to look into these areas and prepare themselves accordingly in order to maximize their time spent in this wonderful country.

Oluwaseyi Oni, originally from Nigeria, is working toward a master’s degree in public health at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta. She will begin this fall and is expected to graduate by 2017.


  1. I think your comments are very insightful and valuable. Coming from Honduras, I wouldn´t have guessed that teachers were friendly and approachable. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It really encourage me and also just as a fresh student from Africa in state University I believe it has opened my eyes to used each and every opportunity to interact with lecturers and professor so as to achieve my education dream. Thank you


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