Culture shock

three students share their stories – The Lafayette

The transition to college life is an exciting and daunting experience for everyone, but for many Lafayette students, this transition includes the added burden of adjusting to American life and life outside the city.

These students experienced culture shock, which occurs when someone goes through a sense of bewilderment and shock upon arriving in a new environment or country, with a different language, different social norms and more. It is important to know, however, that while these experiences may be universal, the stories we have collected are not the only experiences of students from different backgrounds. To get a sense of their experiences, The Lafayette interviewed three college students about how they dealt with culture shock.

Bowen Hou ’21 is an international student from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in southern China. Although he attended an international high school, where the majority of teachers were from the United States and the United Kingdom, Hou was struck by the myriad differences with his home country.

“When I got off the plane, everything was different,” Bowen said. “Even the layout of the city, the houses and the streets, was very different from my country. One of the first things I noticed were the dorms. In my country, boys and girls live separately, and here we live on the same floor and have gender-neutral bathrooms. It was kind of weird for me, but I can get used to it.

Many of the differences Bowen noticed were small, but still significant to someone unfamiliar with them. From buffet-style dining halls to undergraduate research opportunities, there were many small changes to get used to, but fewer real obstacles to his transition.

“It’s really not that different here; we dress the same, we just speak a different language,” Bowen noted. “The language, for me, was pretty easy to get used to. There was less of a barrier than I thought. However, I still have to look up vocabulary words on Urban Dictionary.

A major cultural difference Bowen noticed was censorship. Restricted access to certain content in China meant that many books and reports, both online and in libraries, were inaccessible to him.

“To study or find materials, the media here are [freer.] We have books here that would be considered sensitive in my country,” he said.

Milena Berestko ’22 in part grew up outside the United States, but has lived in New York for three years, so she is not considered an international student, but said she had a hard time with people who tried to lock her in a single identity.

“I’m originally from Poland, but I’m from New York. I am proud to have spent the last three years in New York,” she said. “If people ask me, ‘Are you an international student?’ it takes away from that experience and a lot of what I went through to get to college.

One of the biggest culture shocks for Berestko was about identity. Growing up in Poland and then moving to New York meant that at Lafayette she often stood out to people, but in a different way than many international students.

“I look like a white American, but when people find out I’m not, it becomes, ‘Well… who are you? Are you American or are you a Polish girl? »

“I couldn’t call myself Polish-American, and I think I already have a big part of New York in me,” Berestko said. “I look like a white person, but when I talk they think, ‘Oh, she’s not from here.’ I don’t fit in as a regular white American, but I don’t fit in as a person of color either.

In addition to identity conflicts, Berestko has also experienced the universal shock of increased responsibility and workload that comes with registration.

“It’s weird to have so much time that isn’t your time,” she said. “You use your free time, but it feels like wasted time. There’s more pressure to organize.

Julisan Street ’21, said she experienced culture shock in many ways. From American speech, the way Americans dress, food and identity, to not using umbrellas when it’s raining outside.

Street is from Kingston, Jamaica, and when she got to middle school, she struggled to learn American expressions and their meanings. She often found herself on Urban Dictionary, trying to define words she hadn’t come across.

“I have to use Urban Dictionary a lot… and sometimes Urban Dictionary doesn’t give me the exact definition [Americans] use [words] for a specific context,” she said. “When people say, ‘in a minute,’ I was thinking [they] literally meant “in a minute”.

In addition to adjusting to the talk, through the news, Street soon learned that she thought about her identity as a black woman more in America than she did in Jamaica, where she didn’t really consider her racial identity as often.

Street said the media warns Americans to be careful walking at night in Jamaica, but she feels more unsafe walking around Easton as a black woman.

“I can’t change my race or my genetic makeup.”

To cope with culture shock in America and in college, as Street tried to immerse herself in the culture, she “also tried not to forget her Jamaican culture”.

“I do my best to talk to people at home every day because the longer you live [in America] like someone from a different country, and while things are constantly happening in your country, the less close you feel to your own country,” she said. “I try to follow [what’s happening back home]. The more I talk to people back home, the more I feel at home.

Friends, too, have helped Street adapt better despite the stereotypes.

“I realized that I have wonderful groups of people that I know…it’s been [being here] better and allows me to better understand American culture. I met people who fit the stereotypes Jamaicans have of Americans, but [I’ve met] other people who prove that stereotypes are not the end are all for every American.

“I found it interesting to adapt to the Lafayette culture and I really appreciate it. Being part of the Lafayette dynamic made me realize that I’m Jamaican but I’m also a leopard. So it’s something that I consider part of me and something that helped shape me [in the year that] I’ve been here,” she added.

Mario Sanchez ’21 contributed reporting.