This was expressed to me by an international student from India in the U.S. who had been struggling for months trying to balance her cultural identity with Americanizing herself.
After interacting with, mentoring and coaching many overseas students in the U.S., I would like to share some of their insights that may also help you overcome the culture shock and confusion with adjusting to the American culture.
Realities of Life Away From Home
|Students I met at SUNY Buffalo.|
Of course, change is one reason people want to study abroad. It’s exciting to experience another culture and country. Family and friends; some of which have lived in those countries have so many awesome stories that fill us with wonder, inspiration and excitement. We are eager to experience the same. We hear about all the good things and the exciting things – but we often don’t hear about the challenges. One of the biggest challenges faced in moving abroad for studies is the sudden realization of being different. We won’t be ‘like everyone else’ anymore. We will be different. We will be considered foreigners and outsiders. Yet, as any human being we want to fit in, be accepted, understand how to be successful and get good grades, have fun and graduate so that we can enjoy our life and careers.
Finding Balance Through Self-Discovery
So, how do we balance our enthusiasm for fitting in, adjusting to a new culture and being successful in a new environment with retaining our cultural identity?
To do this is not easy. There is no one-size-fits-all solution as lifestyle and cultural adjustment whether at home or abroad is a continuous and overlapping process. First and foremost, rather than clinging to stereotypes and ideals of an identity – you as the student must take the time to define your own identity, and ideas you have of identity in the country they will be going to. Where does your identity overlap or conflict with the identity abroad? What stereotypes do you have of the country? What kinds of stereotypes do you think locals in the country have of your country or culture?
What we should know with clarity and honesty is our self and cultural identity. What we are guessing about is the identity of the culture we are going to. We must be open to exploring ourselves and other’s identity more when we are abroad to dispel myths and stereotypes. After all being ‘a foreigner’ studying abroad in another country we do not like others interacting with us based on stereotypes- we prefer to be appreciated for the unique individuals we are. After meeting and talking with locals we may realize the truth in our stereotypes or the falsehood of our stereotypes. We may also come to know where our values, behaviors and mindset overlap, differ or converge with the locals. In this process, we will come to know what we want or need to adjust to be successful in the new culture – without compromising our identity.
Balancing Cultural Assimilation and Cultural Identity
It’s easy to take cultural adjustment out of context because it’s adjusting to another language, mindset, mannerisms, dressing style, sense of humor and the many other characteristics that create a culture. In this adjustment, we must always remember to be true to ourselves, stay grounded and retain our cultural identity and values.
Simple Ways to Stay In Touch With Your Identity
|International Students I met at SUNY Brockport.|
Making the Most out of the Opportunity
Studying abroad offers you opportunities as an international student you would not have if you stayed in your hometown or country. Get involved in your college’s international student affairs or global clubs on campus. These opportunities can open doors to meeting other interesting international students and influential members of the campus community that ordinary local students never get the chance to meet such as deans, principals, and CEOs among others. Seize the opportunity – make your best impression by showcasing your understanding of local ways while being true to who you are!
Jennifer Kumar, cross-cultural coach, wrote this article based on her experience coaching and advising international students in the U.S. from the subcontinent (India).
Tips for International Students Thinking About the US:
An online orientation to American Colleges and Campus Life
Considerations when applying to universities in the U.S.
Being the Only ONE (foreigner from your country) on Campus is Hard, but Rewarding!