By Victoria Bauer, Social Media Director
When I decided to leave Argentina and go to graduate school in the United States, I had already spent a full year immersing myself in American culture. As is the case with many foreigners, I experienced culture shock. I protested the small stuff, like the abundance of stop signs throughout the city; I was surprised by the cultural diversity; I adapted to a new eating schedule (dining five hours before going to bed did not make any sense to me). I also had to cope with the absence of habits and customs, flavors and smells, cultural rituals, daily habits, communal behavior, interpersonal relationships, and the nuances of a regionalized language, that I had come to associate with “home.”
If I could go back in time and ask myself three years ago about what I expected to encounter in America, I would have probably described a picture full of Hollywood clichés. But my daily interactions with strangers and with my host family, as well as the language-immersion school I worked at, exposed me to the rich, multi-layered, and eclectic American culture.
With time, I realized that culture shock and homesickness were not my biggest challenges. What was most challenging was the need to make my culture and the American one coexist in a sort of symbiotic relationship.
When I first came to the University of Missouri – St. Louis, I was so worried about my academics that I neglected to pay attention to an altogether different form of culture shock—immersion in a new academic environment. Of course, I was welcomed with open arms and a fantastic group of people was ready to assuage all the worries of an anxious newcomer. However, such hospitality is rarely enough and I was nonetheless overwhelmed by America’s unique academic culture.
If you are an international student like me, my advice is this: find your own way to deal with culture shock in a productive way. There are many ways you can do this. It took little time for me to realize that opening up about missing home and my traditions was equally as important as trying to continue some of them and sharing them with new friends. This helped me establish a balance that, in some ways, minimized the distance between the U.S. and home.
But I wanted more than that, and you may too: I wanted to make UMSL my space, my home away from home. This was not just a mere whim—I believe that doing so has helped me to excel academically. It was not easy because everyone else around me seemed to be pretty settled, while I felt uncomfortable and out of place. However, getting involved in activities at school was extremely helpful and helped me appreciate UMSL’s campus life in an exciting way. The Current, for instance, has given me opportunities to improve my abilities as a writer, all while gaining an awareness of what goes on in UMSL and around the city. This awareness was complemented by getting a job as a student worker. This job not only became a source of interaction with other members of the UMSL community, but a space where I could learn more about UMSL in an effort to help others. The help has ended up being a two-way street.
This is an invitation for anybody who, just like me, finds themselves in a new place with new, overwhelming, yet potentially fulfilling experiences. Spend some time at UMSL outside of class time; talk with those who might not even share your same first language or culture; be on the look-out for enriching experiences and activities (which are plenty!) Turn culture shock into an opportunity to enjoy a different culture, achieve your goals, and make UMSL your home!