International students cope with cultural differences
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 13:03
International students can face challenges when they come to the United States for school, but this doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy their experience.
Alex Tekere and Lindy Sabau, natives of Harare, Zimbabwe, know exactly what it’s like to be somewhere entirely different for a university education.
Tekere, a freshman majoring in biological engineering, arrived in the U.S. this semester and was welcomed by Logan’s freezing cold and snow.
“On the website there are spring pictures and they said it’s spring semester, but you come and it’s cold,” he said. “I came dressed in summer clothing.”
Tekere applied to USU through the College Board, a website for college planning and preparation. He and his parents chose USU for its safety and academic performance.
Sabau, a freshman studying journalism and public relations, said she and her parents chose Logan for its safety.
“It’s Logan,” she said. “Nothing happens in Logan. It’s very closed and sheltered and safe.”
Sabau had been to America before, but never to Cache Valley. She said adjusting was difficult.
“To be honest, it took me a while to get used to it,” she said. “I didn’t expect that some of the people here would be so religious. It’s almost like a lifestyle. That shocked me.”
Despite cultural differences, specifically in the interaction of young people, Tekere and Sabau found many similarities between their culture and the culture of the United States.
“America is the leader of the free world and most of the people follow them,” Tekere said. “For example, in Africa, all of our popular culture is influenced by America.”
“My roommates were amazed that I was on my iPhone texting friends or on Facebook,” Sabau said. “They said, ‘You listen to Beyonce?’ Of course I do. The youth culture is the same around the world.”
Sabau and Tekere said they experience stereotypes as international students.
“Some people almost expect me to live in a hut or something,” Sabau said. “When people say things like that you have to just laugh about it, and then you can educate them.”
“People always assume that if you’re African, you can’t speak any English,” Tekere said. “Whenever I speak, someone always mistakes me for a British person because of my accent.”
Despite the challenges, Sabau said she is adjusting well to student life at USU. She said she enjoys sporting events, especially football games, which was her first exposure to the sport.
“Last semester was difficult,” she said. “It was very cold and I was a little homesick, but I went out, made more friends and decided not to go home.”
Tekere said he also had a tough start.
“I arrived this semester two weeks after orientation so classes had already started,” he said. “I had no idea what was going on or where buildings are on the map — kind of like having to ask people where Old Main is and you’re standing two feet away from it.”
USU has programs and administration specifically for students who come from foreign countries or cultures. Mario Vasquez, multicultural program coordinator, works closely with international students.
“One of the biggest challenges they have to overcome are stereotypes, and as bad as this sounds, the ignorance,” he said. “I think it’s great that they’re here so they can educate us a little bit about their cultures. By seeing those differences we can also see the similarities that we have with each other and we can realize that we’re not as different as we thought.”
Vasquez works primarily with students of diverse cultures born in the U.S. and is the advisor to the African Student Association. This involvement gives him a unique perspective on the lives of diverse students on campus.
“I think that people often see our multicultural students and might be afraid to approach them,” he said. “I wish that more USU students would be open to getting to know them more. All it takes is a smile and for someone to say, ‘Hi.’”
Despite the differences, Tekere and Sabau said they are grateful for the help and support they’ve received.
“The school is very friendly to international students,” Tekere said. “They want us to feel at home as much as possible.”
Sabau encouraged students to overcome stereotypes and get to know others.
“Make friends with students from other cultures,” she said. “It helps so much to overcome stereotypes and ignorance. You have to be open to getting to know students and their cultures.”
Though their families are far away, Sabau and Tekere said they feel at home at USU.