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The international student culture clash

By Pooja KumbharColumnist

Music. Junk food. Caffeine. You have your entire arsenal, complete with textbooks and notes, prepared around your computer, and you are ready to battle out the next 24 hours in Hammer Lab before the big exam. You are in the zone, and the only sound you hear is that of the clock ticking, minute by minute, second by second, as you force yourself to learn all seven chapters before daylight.

It is completely silent around you. Everyone in the lab seems to be in sync, engrossed deeply in his or her studies. A sudden aggressive outburst then breaks the peace. Startled heads spin around in confusion until everyone identifies the source of noise – it’s that international student in the middle of the room who answered his cell phone right there and continued to carry a loud conversation in a foreign language without considering those around him.

Since then, you occasionally find yourself rolling your eyes when you pass a group of international students studying in the library or in Hammer Lab.

We have all been guilty of stereotyping before, or we have at least heard some of the stereotypes that fly around in the Hofstra community. Some common ones are that international students always carry the latest Apple products, they all work as RSRs, and they stick together in groups because they are antisocial towards Americans.

The truth of the matter is, international students hold much more insight about college and American culture than we think. As an English tutor for Hofstra’s University Tutorial Program, I have the opportunity to sit down and talk to many of these students.

“Why do students drink alcohol in excess if it makes them feel sick and act stupid? Why do they have sex casually? Why do American girls always look so confident?”

These were some of the questions I was bombarded with, not out of contempt, but rather, fascination. The culture clash is immense, and it is hard for the international students to assimilate and make friends in such a vigorous country. “Americans are extreme in expression and always enthusiastic and proud of everything,” said Dutch international student Martijn Teunissen, a senior majoring in business economics. “The Chinese International students on the other hand are very humble and shy.”

Americans tend to have strong personalities, which can come off as intimidating to even the most eager of students who seek to assimilate in our culture. Many of these students want to break out of their comfort groups and make American friends, but find it difficult to do so because of the language barrier and the lack of confidence in certain social practices.

“Americans are kind hearted, talkative, always ready to help people and always look energetic and positive,” said Lu Chen, a second-year Chinese International student of Hofstra’s MBA program. “Many Chinese students wish to make friends with other Americans and experience opportunities like going to the bars, studying together, and attending more activities.”

When we believe that international students are resistant to get to know us and the American culture, we are too doused in our own ignorant complexes to realize that we come off just as resistant to be open to them.

It’s time to put aside the preconceived notions. Next time you see a Chinese International student sitting next to you in Hammer Lab, instead of staring at their container of Wasabi Peas with strange Korean writing on it, extend a hand, ask for a munch, and get to know a new culture.

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