Graduate school offers challenges to new and incoming students. It offers even more so the international student who is probably not only dealing with the hurdles of getting used to the coursework and readings, but also adjusting to the new culture, food and language.
Even though English is one of my first languages, US English was still distinct.When someone first asked me “What’s up?”, I looked at the sky and said “Nothing..?” There’s a lot colloquialisms that you won’t understand if you have not lived in the US for awhile. I had to learn a different style of writing in English since there was more analysis as opposed to summarization. Many international students have trouble getting used to the language especially in their first few months in the US. I was young enough when I moved to the US that this didn’t matter to me so much. People also talked very quickly and always used acronyms or shortened things to say it more quickly. There were times in classes that I had to really pay attention to what the professor or what my classmate was saying. I didn’t have so much a problem with this but many international students are overwhelmed with the different races and cultures that you have to deal with when you’re in the US–the country is such a melting pot of people that it can be intimidating sometimes. In most countries, populations are pretty homogenous so its strange when you see black, white, brown, all mixed in one place. I personally did not see a black person until I came to the US.
There was also a major adjustment in food for me. I grew up in a third world country where there were plenty of fruits and fresh food. My first fast-food meal at the US was at Burger King. I was first amazed at the large size of their burger (it was twice as a big as normal burgers back home) and even more surprised after I bit on it; I could hardly taste the meat since there was so much oil and fat. Now I rarely go to Burger King because of that. I also learned that McDonalds did not serve certain country-related foods that it served outside of the US, that “iced tea” can be unsweetened (I learned the hard way) and that portions of fastfood in the US is 2x-3x larger than the normal.
I also had to really adjust to the coursework. Like most people, I don’t really prefer to stay indoors all day and to spend a majority of my time working. But in order to succeed and to get ahead of my school work, I really had to give up a lot of my recreational time. Now as a graduate student, it was much easier for me to manage my time because of years of practice despite having more coursework. I learned my own work rhythms and decided that having my weekends off and working hard on the weekdays was the schedule that worked for me the best. This doesn’t always happen but that is what I more or less strive for.
There is also a sense of isolation and solitude. Most international students come to the US without their parents or relatives and it makes holidays and breaks a reminder of how alone you are. Though this can be assuaged by host families and spending time with other international students, it definitely is a path that can make one miss their family a lot.
The US culture is not the same as culture in say, Latin America, where it is pretty normal for you to hug or touch people. I personally do not like to be touched when I first get to know people but I had to get used to handshakes and friendly hugs (I still don’t like it today but I’m much better at evading hugs that I don’t want 🙂 ).
The last thing I had trouble with when moving to the US was getting used to living in a much faster way of life. The general attitude of most people in the US is “GO and NOW.” It was much slower in my country and there was much more time to do things that you wanted to do–work was not 100% of your life.
Given all these hurdles, I’ve found studying in the US extremely conducive to my learning and skill-building. There were many more opportunities for growth and development and I probably would not be a graduate student today if I did not study in the US.