Posted on January 26, 2016

7 Things International Students Go Through When They Move to the U.S.

Student Life

It has become a universal thing to relate stress with moving out of your house. Sure it’s exciting, but not easy. Imagine what it’s like to move from one neighborhood to another, or move across the country to a state you’ve never been to before. For some people, it’s exactly what they need—a fresh start, a new life, a change of scenery. However, it’s not that easy for others leaving everything behind. Now imagine you are moving from another country. You have to embrace new traditions and a new lifestyle very different from yours. The struggle WILL be real. That well-known culture shock is what most international students go through when they first move to the United States. For most Americans, what internationals consider as “shocking” are commonplace things. Are these seven shocking things as surprising for you as they are for a newly-arrived foreigner?

1. Is 8:00 really 8:00?

Time is so valued in this country. Although punctuality would normally be acceptable behavior everywhere, there are many countries in which time is relative. In some countries, when you tell someone the meeting is at 10 a.m., they calculate the meeting will actually start at 10:30 or 11:00 o’clock. It’s actually customary in West Africa to arrive up to 4-6 hours late to business meetings and appointments, according to The American Genius. It’s a big cultural shock for people that are not used to arriving on time to change their mentality and arrive at the time they are told and not a day later!

2. Traffic signs are not just for the pretty colors

Fast and furious was just a movie! Taking that into consideration when defining the American culture will not get you far. Everything from parking zones to speed limits have a specific set of rules to follow. Many Latin-American countries drive up to 20 miles below or over the speed limit since authorities don’t enforce the law as they should, thus creating a big impact on driving safely.  That is why many Hispanic students have a hard time familiarizing themselves with all of the restrictions and traffic implementations, especially stop signs!

3. Is gas made out of gold?

Imagine what it must be like for people from eastern countries – Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. – to pay so much for a tank full of gas. As oil-producing countries, they pay close to 50 cents to fuel their cars. Did you know that in those countries it is cheaper to pay for gas than for a bottle of water? The price of gas is outrageous for students that come from that economic background. Venezuela, for example, has the cheapest gas in the world. It’s priced at just 10 cents for a full tank. It is pretty obvious that some foreigners’ wallets take a big hit when they see American gas prices for the first time.

 4. The fast food struggle

You can never go wrong with french fries and hamburgers after a stressful day. You can also get them in almost any fast food restaurant since there is one on every corner of this country. Fast food is easy, addicting and accessible. It gives international students an easy way of eating something good, but not breaking their bank in the process. On the negative side, you could say it’s not the healthiest choice, and eating it every day can cause you serious problems in the future, but it is the most popular choice.  Yes, of course there are fast food restaurants in other countries—McDonald’s itself has made sure to put one restaurant on every street of the world—but as for the accessibility and quantity of fast food places, the U.S. gets the winning prize.

5. Liver For Sale: I have to pay my tuition

We all know college tuition should not exist and should be eradicated from humanity forever, amirite? However, until that day comes, we are obligated to pay for college. It is already too expensive for Americans to pay for college. And guess what? For internationals, the price triples itself for not being U.S. residents. It is unbelievable that tuition is so expensive that when you add living expenses, food expenses, books, and other necessary things, the price stops many students from actually deciding to come here and try to get their bachelors or masters.

A public university in Thailand would be 3,000 U.S. dollars per year,” says Tanya Ratana, a current UNT international student from Thailand. That’s less expensive than one semester in a public college in any place of the United States.



6. Shivering or sweating?

How many weather warnings can your phone get in one season? Tornado warning, flooding warning, hail warning, roads are freezing, etc.—it’s excessive. Weather changes all the time, and it is extreme at the worst case scenario. Although, who doesn’t like seeing snow fall for the first time at the start of winter, leaves falling in the middle of October or the warm sun of summer time? However, many international students only get to see this when they go study abroad because their countries are located in the line of the Equator where there is only one neutral climate.

“Since Thailand is closer to the Equator, it is very, very hot all year round,” says Ratana over her home country’s weather conditions. “It is very tropical, so there is no such thing as snow or having winters,” 

7. 911? Hello, it’s me.

No, not an Adele song, but still relevant. Nobody wants to get themselves into a situation in which they have to call 911. Still, this is a very common thing to do in the U.S. in case of an emergency. It is an immediate response from the police and/or the firefighters as soon as you dial those three numbers. Every country has this system – but that doesn’t mean that it is effective. Timing is crucial when it comes to an emergency, everybody should know that. If the authorities are not efficient then, what is the point of calling 911? That is what happens in many countries that are not well-off economically and have unstable social backgrounds. For this reason, when international students arrive American colleges and they hear all about emergency phones over campus they, do not think it will work as well as it should, even though it actually does.

The good thing about differences across cultures is that there is always something new to learn. Something you did not think was important, for some people can mean everything. It is never too late to learn about other nationalities and their customs. What culture shocks would you experience if you were to move anywhere else in the world?

Photo by: Jaida Brinkley

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