Art by Peau Porotesano
“Wow! You’re so far away from home! This must be so different for you!”
I can’t stress how many times I have heard this comment since my freshman year here at Pepperdine. Being an international student here is something truly hard to explain. It honestly depends on what part of the world you come from and the people you surround yourself with at the university. However, there are some recurring struggles that my international friends and I share.
The first is the challenge of communication. It is extremely difficult to get accustomed to the way people communicate in the United States, and I don’t mean this in a bad way; I’m simply stressing the fact that it is very, very different. For example, being from Ecuador, my initial shock was how cold people’s greetings were. This is a common miscommunication shared by many Latin Americans at this university.
Junior Cassandra Santamaria from Guaymas, Mexico said, “The first time I got to the U.S. I was used to saying hello with a kiss on the cheek, and I was shocked when student’s would stare at me and feel extremely uncomfortable as I leaned in for the welcoming kiss.”
Like Santamaria, I had a difficult time adapting to cues and customs here in the United States such as stretching out my right hand to introduce myself or learning to give people at least a three feet distance so they don’t feel like I am invading their space.
A second major challenge regards culture. The culture of each individual international student varies tremendously. However, we all do share the similarity of this barrier for us upon our first arrival.
“There is a lot of culture barrier in the way that we interact with friends,” junior Nicole Tjakralaksana from Singapore said. “It wasn’t hard making friends, but making close friends is a little hard due to the lack of common experiences and not having the same sense of humor.”
Sadly, this is a common feeling most international students had their freshman year, and it often isn’t until after sophomore year (after students have gone abroad) that this mentality of American ethnocentrism begins to disappear. Of course American students are not at fault for expecting us to fit in so quickly and entirely, but it certainly does help to approach American students who have traveled abroad and left their hometown bubble, as they then view you with a more open mentality and value your cultural differences.
These differences can be something simple, such as having a glass of wine at night with your family members. “It is very hard for me to find someone who understands the cultural value that alcohol can play in an entire society,” freshman Barbara Arizaga from Quito, Ecuador said. “Back home I am legal already, and I can drink with my family or friends during dinner. Here I am lost in a society where alcohol is viewed negatively, where kids abuse…it and where I am forced to be underage again. It is very confusing.”
There are numerous challenges to being an international student, but the last I wish to address is religion. Specifically, the Muslim international student community is faced with the hard challenge of being from a non-Christian faith, in a Christian university.
“Being international and of a different religion was really, really difficult for me, especially my first year when some students would try to ‘save me,’” junior Mashaer Al Yami from Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, said.
I believe this challenge needs to push for both American and international students to have a more embracing perspective in which all religions are accepted and respected.
Of course the life of an international student at Pepperdine is not all negative; these are merely the main challenges most, if not all of us have had to face at least once during our time here.
However, it has been a great experience as I myself have seen how much I have grown and how much more open my mentality is to the American culture. Most of my friends are from here and, over time, we have all learned to appreciate our differences and even our similarities despite being from such different places.
I think the real secret lies in all of us learning to be open minded: open minded to the fact that we live in a global world and not in a bubble; to learning more about different cultures and all the richness of diversity each and every one of us brings to this university.
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