Education


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.

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One of Life Made Simple’s main goals is achieving well-being through simplicity.  What better way than to talk about how food may affect our well-being.  Evie Pesheva from LMS sat down with Elena Mitova, a  certified nutritionist, to discuss basic ideas about good and bad nutrition.  Take a look!

For more information on Elena Mitova check out her website: www.elenamitova.com

In the technological world we live in today, its hard for one to imagine functioning without technology. I decided to investigate how some people who were not raised in the present media era lived simply back in the day and how perhaps they view technology today.

I had the opportunity of spending some face-to-face time with 80 year old Ferrell Daste who didn’t grow up with the technology we have nowadays. Ferrell discussed what it was like growing up as a kid in the 1930s-1940s and how life was much simpler when he was growing up.

Do you think life was simpler when you were young? Why or why not?

 Yes, because although we never had too much, we were closer together than people are now and we all grew up closer together.

What do you mean by that?

 We didn’t have television or other modern day things that took us away from one another. At that time, everyone would have a lot of kids so all of the neighborhoods had a lot of kids, ours had around 30. And although there was so many of us, you were able to intermingle more with everyone. I think a lot of technological things take away from that.

So what did you do for fun?

Well back then, movies were only 7 cents and our only form of entertainment. The only games we had, were the ones we put together ourselves. I remember there was only one basketball in the whole neighborhood and the only time we played football was in vacant lots [laughs]. We made due with whatever we had and enjoyed it so if you got something new it was like a Christmas present.

You talked about putting games together yourself, can you explain some of the games you made?

There was bat-the-can, it was like baseball…except with a can. We also played humpty head which was like what kids call hide-and-seek now. We would run through the neighborhood and hide under houses, and when you caught someone you would yell “Humpty Head!”

Do you use any technology now?

I use the computer, but only to send messages to family and for news.

What things do you think people could live without that you didn’t have growing up?

Automobiles.

Really? Why is that?

Because I think that there are so many other ways to get around and people only use it for convenience and to get where they are going quicker.

If you had a choice, would you have been born with the new generations or when you were? Why?

I’d be born when I was, because it was simple. We didn’t even feel the need to go out of the neighborhood to meet people in our lives.

Anything to add?

Communication, that is the biggest change. Most people talk mostly through texting now, it’s so impersonal and it’s sad.

Thanksgiving is a week away and many of us may already have Thanksgiving planned out from the dinner menu to the day’s festivities. Thanksgiving celebrations typically include families getting together enjoying a traditional feast of a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie- THE works! This special fourth Thursday in November is known as a holiday to express thankfulness to God, family and friends for all the blessings in our lives.

Thanksgiving is a celebration that is meant to be spent with loved ones! While you still have time to make the arrangements, Life Made Simple encourages you to plan to give to those who might not necessarily have the blessings that you have in your life. Whether you invite a friend over who doesn’t have family around or volunteer with family members at a local soup kitchen-giving back to others and your community will definitely put a smile on someones face this Thanksgiving. Now that’s something to be thankful for!

If you are interested at volunteering at a soup kitchen here are some helpful links to help you find one near you!

The Marquard Center Dining Room in Chicago

Chicago Food Depository

The Volunteer Center

Last week, Life Made Simple featured a story about Learning in Africa at the Kokrobitey Institute in Accra, Ghana. Today, we will share some personal essays directly from the students that will  give a closer glimpse of the Urban Scholars Program. These high school students are from various Chicago area schools who’ve traveled to the Kokrobitey Institute between the years of 2001 and 2005. The creative stories and poems give a very personal account of the students’ experiences while traveling to Africa – especially those who have never before traveled out of the country.

A priority of the Institute is to introduce students to the ‘Old World’ of Africa and to “build self-esteem through self-discovery and academic excellence”. For two weeks, students take classes on history, African literature, African Arts and finish with individual projects on their experience.

Below are two compelling examples of a story and a poem that were written by students who’ve traveled to the Kokrobitey Institute.

Story: Reflections  

When I first sank my black Converse into the Ghanaian sand,
I realized I was afraid I would lose my identity. My pace was
quick because, with each step,

I feared my sense of self would
slip into the soil. After spending the last seventeen years
strapped into color-coded society, coming to Ghana felt like
tripping into the Black abyss.

I was afraid that Africans would see me as white. At home
I was taught that white was the hue of emptiness: White
Americans were blank beings who traded commercialism for
culture and stole whatever beliefs they could not buy. White is
the color of fresh notebook paper. I had already been stained.
I did not want to be rewritten with the ink of the Motherland.

A staring contest with a Ghanaian street vendor changed my
fears. The way they glanced, the way they held—I had never
seen eyes that looked so much like mine. It felt as though I
was staring at myself. People say that you can only see the
world through your own perspective, but with his eyes, I knew
he must see the same as I did. Oceans and centuries had
separated us, but we share.

I was once afraid to walk here. Now, as I traipse barefoot
across Ghanaian ground, I realize that I have not been broken
but built. Before coming to Kokrobitey the Black-White
dichotomy fashioned my cultural identity: to be Black was to be
the opposite of White. Yet here in Africa, people who were the
same color as me surrounded me. Here, without the presence of
the “other,” I—the African-American—had to face the other side of the hyphen.

Over the last two weeks I have learned that culture is not a
static monolith but a dynamic entity. Never again must I fear
that my culture will crack because it breathes just as I do. It
is a product of human interaction, and it changes in accordance
with the place, time, and knowledge of its followers. Ethnicity
yields culture, but culture does not exist in a racial vacuum. My
brown skin and the traditions it signifies are products of both
sides of the hyphen.

I am African. I am American. I am Human.

Poem: History On My Shoulders

I’ve finally come back
I’ve gone through my past
My voyage was rough
But troubled waters don’t last
I’ve seen first hand
What my ancestors went through
The whips, the chains, the death….
Enough to humble you
I’ve finally come home
To see the beauty
Aesthetically pleasing
And yet there’s more to see
I’ve been to the Door of No Return
And yet I’ve come back
And when I go home
I’ll share my story with no c lack
See, I’ve shed my tears
And learned my history
Finally, I understand my story
So many emotions I’ve had in two weeks
This makes you realize how precious life can be
Everything here is so full of life
The birds, the bees, the geckos, the trees
Such a pretty sight
I’ve met people who will forever change my life
And to them I say
“Thank you for being so nice”
This trip here has taught me to be appreciative for things
Like water and food and only take what you need
I know I’ve grown from this trip
I’ve learned to slow down
And to take life bit by bit
I’ve learned how to barter
And to walk away when I see fit
See this was much more than a vacation to me
I came to get some knowledge about my ancestry
And now that I know what I know
I’ll hold on to my past, and never let go
So even though it wasn’t us. Our fathers or mothers
It may not have been you, him or her
But it happened to someone or we wouldn’t be here
If our forefathers survived that….
We shouldn’t have any fears
Some people think history is old
But to me, I think we should embrace it,
And make sure this story gets told.

Along with taking classes, students take part in field trips in the area such Cape Coast, Aburi and other local towns in Accra. An integral part of the program is allowing American students to work closely with their Ghanaian peers so they take part in community service.


The Urban Scholars Program at The Kokrobitey Institute has proven to be a life changing experience for the students who’ve had the opportunity to participate. Lives have been enriched and changed forever through this program.  Life Made Simple proudly features the Urban Scholars Program at the Kokrobitey Institute and encourages parents to give their children opportunities like this one!