International Student Hacks: Culture Shock Edition

- The Experience, Samirah Jaigirdar '22 

Six students pose together for a photo in front of fairy lights
Me with some of my South Asian friends at Diwali! Even though we’re two continents away from home, Conn’s South Asian squad is going strong.

During my first semester at Conn, I underestimated how powerful culture shock can be. American culture is so different from my own. But I also thought that I was immune to culture shock. I spent the last two years of high school in Eswatini at an international boarding school where many different nationalities were represented. Based on this experience living away from home–I’m from Bangladesh–I thought moving to the United States for college wouldn’t be that big of a change. However, it was harder than I expected. It got harder when I realized that my birthday was on the second day of classes and I knew absolutely no one (read all about it: 7,790 Miles, a Birthday, and a Camel Moment).

As a sophomore, I have gotten accustomed to many of the culture-shock moments listed below. It is remarkable to think of how much I have adjusted to New England in 18 months.

Key differences that left me shook:

  1. Some professors ask you to call them by their first names. In both Bangladesh and Eswatini, we would address teachers with their title and last name. For example, my math teacher was always Mr. Pearson. During Orientation for international students at Conn, I was shocked when the dean of international students said we could call her Carmela instead of Dean Patton.

  2. Everyone says either “Hi,” “Thank you” or “Sorry” for everything and anything. They also smile at you as you pass by. In Bangladesh, you don’t really acknowledge strangers on the street. However, in America, random people smiling at me soon became the norm. Now, whenever I do it in Dhaka I get weird looks.

  3. American spelling is very different from British spelling. Although this hasn’t been much of an issue, my friends are sometimes surprised by my spellings when they review my essays.

  4. The portion sizes in fast food chains like McDonald’s are huge! That’s it. That’s the tweet.

  5. Everyone has a dog. In Bangladesh, I only knew one family that had a dog. At Conn, most staff and faculty who live on or near campus have dogs, and I can see them regularly walking about. I love dogs and the dogs of Conn are very friendly!

  6. The second amendment. In Bangladesh, traffic police do not have guns. In my two years in the United States, I have seen far too many gun stores and Americans’ devotion to arms still confuses me.

  7. The way Americans dress down (i.e sweatpants and sweatshirts in class). I have always been taught to dress for class in casual formal attire. So when I saw my peers going to class in sweatpants, I was a little confused. Although this is one habit I don’t see myself getting into, I enjoy not having to think too hard on what “appropriate” attire would be when I am running late for a 9 a.m. class!