By Jessica Chen
Introduction: It has been almost three months into my freshman year, and looking back at the international student orientation, there are some key findings regarding the cultural differences that I have observed among students from different cultural backgrounds, and there are new views as well as suggestions I can incorporate based on my experiences from the past three months.
What I have observed/experienced (from a Chinese-Canadian perspective)
My cultural background is similar to those of Americans because I grew up in Vancouver, Canada. So, even though I’m considered an “international student,” I don’t feel a significant difference. The interesting part of the international orientation was that I got to observe how Chinese international students reacted, and it was insightful for me as we are the same ethnic group but with totally different cultural backgrounds. I decided to make friends with them, but surprisingly, I experienced culture shock because they thought I was “too Canadian” and we were different. It is ironic how I didn’t experience culture shock coming into the States but experienced it with my ethnic group. The Chinese group quickly got familiarized with each other, and they formed a friend group. I was disappointed and felt left out because I didn’t understand what they were discussing, and I had no friends. I didn’t belong because of the different cultural backgrounds we had growing up.
What the international students felt (students coming from China)
I ended up talking to a girl from China and decided to ask her about the experience as I was intrigued by the culture shock I felt. She told me the language barrier was the primary thing they were struggling with; it was their first time living in an entirely English-speaking country. It was very nerve-wracking for them, thus making it hard for them to make non-Chinese friends. The cultural difference is also a barrier for them as they don’t know how to converse with locals. This factor made it easy for them to cling to other Chinese students, which resulted in always staying within their comfort zone.
My views now as a freshman:
There are some limitations I now realize in the orientation. The contents of the orientation were mostly academic and health-orientated. They taught students how to access those resources but forgot about campus/student life. No clubs and activities were introduced, which limits the chances of Chinese students experiencing American student life as they wouldn’t know how to access and the importance of engaging in those activities. They would have no way to make local friends and only end up in an entirely Chinese friend group, which destroys this purpose of coming here to study. In the end, many Chinese students treat the States as a place only to complete their degrees rather than a community where they feel safe or welcomed.
Editor Comments: In addition to attending her freshman year at the University of Minnesota, Jessica Chen has expressed an interest in journalism, so China Insight has agreed to accept her as an intern. This is her first article and we plan to include others in the future along with updates as to her adjusting to college life at the University of Minnesota. So please join us in welcoming Jessica to Minnesota and wishing her much success in pursing her education.