Nowadays, there are more and more international students who come to the United States to further their education. As international students come to the US a very common experience many go through is culture shock. This time, Life Made Simple meets Dr. Elaine Yuan, who is a multicultural communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Yuan is a native of Beijing, China and she has been in the US for nearly ten years. We here at LMS, credit Dr. Yuan as having the right kind of experience to give proper advice to international students who may be in the midst of a transition to a new culture. As Dr. Yuan is a professional in multicultural communication, LMS hopes that her own experience and advise could help international students start a simple and comfortable life here in the US.
LMS: Having been in the U.S. for nearly ten years, what do you think is the most difficult thing for an international student living in a new environment?
YUAN: The most difficult thing, for me, is to get used to the American culture. Culture is a big all-encompassing term. To be more specific, it means to know the local language well in order to express oneself freely, to know the local social psychology and etiquettes well in order to make friends, build social support and feel comfortable in this foreign social environment.
LMS: What do you think is the easiest way to overcome that difficulty?
YUAN: The easiest way to overcome the difficulty is to learn about cultures. Learning about cultures takes place on two levels. One, learn specific cultural facts in the hosting country such as the local language, social customs, the political system and values etc. Two, understand difficulties are usually caused by differences between what one is used to and what the foreign culture prescribes. Once, you achieve this kind of understanding. Things may get a bit easier. But just a little bit.
LMS: Are there any helpful tips you can offer to maybe help international students live a better here in the U.S.?
YUAN: I’m looking for such tips myself. But there is one thing that may count as a helpful tip: reach out. Reach out for people and make active efforts to make friends. I think it’s particularly important for Chinese students who tend to be shy and passive in social interactions. Sometimes a positive attitude goes a long way.
LMS: Have you found others from your home country that you socialize with or have developed a close circle/community with?
YUAN: Yes, definitely. I have very close Chinese friends. It’s always easier to find friendship among people from the same culture. But I also have good American friends. It’s unfortunate not to make efforts to make friends in the hosting culture just because it is difficult to do so. Again, you need to try. Ask some American classmates to go to movies or join them for parties.
LMS: Do you think that there are communication barriers to overcome for international students living in the U.S.?
YUAN: Yes, definitely. You can say all the difficulties caused by cultural differences are problems in communication. Differences among people with different languages and customs make communication among them difficult. But I think the most effective solution to communication problems is communication itself. So go out to make friends and start communicating.
LMS: How can communication be improved between Americans and international students who may find it difficult to communicate while here?
YUAN: There are two things to do. One, make efforts to learn about other cultures. Understand and respect cultural differences. Two, reach out for people from the foreign culture. Make friends and talk to them.
LMS: Personally, I miss home a lot and I am going through the culture shock period. Could you give some suggestions that could help cope with being so far away from home for an international student like myself?
YUAN: Call home. Find some friends from your home country to share your shocks and grievances. Find some American friends to have some fun. Write a blog. But it won’t be easy to go away. All you can do is to face it.
For those of you experiencing similar transitions as an international student or simply a new immigrant to a foreign country, we hope that the advise Dr. Yuan provided us with can guide you in adapting to a new life in simpler ways. In the end as Dr. Yuan suggests, we just have to face reality and adapt to a new culture with optimism.