As an international student, you’ve had to adjust to time differences, cultural differences and long distance relationships with loved ones. But perhaps the most painful and unexpected, is the “experience distance” you may feel. Experiencing a lot of new and different things most of your friends and family back home haven’t gone through can create a gap of understanding that wasn’t there before. You probably have a new perspective of your own culture because now you’ve seen it from the outside looking in. Your view of your home culture is the air your old friends unconsciously breathe and your experiences in your new culture are foreign to them. You will probably continue to change with every new experience, creating an ever-growing gap. This could leave you feeling very misunderstood, isolated and alone.
“Faux pas” is a term borrowed from French that literally means “false step.” A faux pas is an embarrassing or tactless act or remark in a social situation.
It is SO EASY to make awkward mistakes when living in a new culture. Here are a few faux pas that international students before you have made—so that you don’t have to!
“You’ve gotten fat!”
Ouch! Hearing that from my international student friend really stung. In some countries, making comments about someone’s appearance or weight is not a big deal, but Americans are very sensitive to what people say about how they look and especially their weight.
Never comment on an American’s weight or say anything negative about their appearance.
First I want to say I’m proud of you. You have ventured to America to further your education and learned a new culture far away from home. You are adapting new values and hopefully understanding more about yourself. However, as you learn more about yourself I’m sure you desire, perhaps even long for, your new friends to know where you came from. Those friends you made at new student orientation and in Chem Lab are just as curious about your culture as you are about theirs.
I can understand the hesitation of not wanting to be vulnerable with those around you; you don’t want be the one that is different. But bringing your differences to light can be just what your friends need. We all have something to teach one another. The more we share ourselves, and the more we learn about others, the more we realize we may not be that different after all. Here’s some tips on how to start sharing your culture with others!
I was all dressed up with nowhere to go for most of my adolescence. I went to prom by myself, hitting my teenage understanding of rock bottom, when I pumped my own gas in my floor-length gown. I had a longing for someone I had never met, his existence like a mirage, or a shadow, in every romantic setting I encountered alone. Years of singleness gave me plenty of time to develop an unrealistic picture of marriage in my head. I put kind, thoughtful men up on pedestals. I didn’t know then that they didn’t have the balance for that. Now I know, no one does. Americans tend to over-romanticize relationships, which kept me from seeing the simple beauty of two flawed people choosing to love each other. But reality, being the truthful friend she is, slowly removed the blindfold as I started dating after college.
Red is the color of my memory about the Spring Festival because it summarizes my feelings of the old times in my home city of Beijing.
Beijing is an ancient city, the roots of many families have been grounded there for generations. If you ask “Beijingers” why they don’t want to move, they will answer you, “There is no better place than this city.” They are proud to live there. The accent, food and even the way of eating certain foods all carry pieces of this pride. I think there is also a deeper reason for it. It is the sense of family and community. We believe that there is nothing outside worth the cost of leaving family, friends and the city.
Family and community is the foundation for people in Beijing. It is also the theme of my family’s Spring Festival. A week before the Spring Festival, you will be able to hear the beginning whispers of it.
Living within another culture has unique demands when it comes to communication. It is not simply a matter of being able to speak another language, it is also a matter of understanding how and why people communicate the way they do.
In 2014, Erin Meyer wrote a book called, The Culture Map. Meyer, an international business consultant describes eight ways cultures differ from each other. Not only does she describe the ways they differ, she also puts countries on a graph to show how countries compare with each other. Understanding your own way of thinking in light of a new culture you are immersed in, can enable one to be patient, adjust, and hopefully thrive.
Take for example how cultures communicate within their culture. There are some countries and areas of the world where peoples have lived for generations without many coming in from outside. Some Asian cultures have centuries of cultural sameness in contrast to the United States, Australia, or Canada which are relatively young and where immigrants have been a part of the building of the country.