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For international students, communication is a two-way street

“Hey, how are you?” “Good, and you?” “I am fine, thank you.”

This interaction is a daily part of the Minnesota nice, happy Cobber lifestyle. But why do people ask that? Is it because they really want to know how your day was, or is it just a filler phrase? Well, I don’t have an answer for that. Many international students, like myself, are from cultures which are way different from what they experience here. For many of us, the hardest part of adjustment might be culture shock.

In the culture I come from you don’t look at older people in the eyes when you are being spoken to and you don’t raise your left hand to answer questions in class. In my freshman year, I realized you have to look someone in the eyes when they are speaking to you or else you might be tagged as being rude. I also learned that no one cares what hand you raise to answer questions.

I had to learn quickly about the norms of the Concordia community and master some of the unwritten rules, such as smiling at almost everyone you meet across campus. I have adjusted fine to some of the cultural changes, but one thing I never adjusted to was the food. The first day I walked into DS I took a plate of mashed potatoes and could not eat beyond a spoon. It was at this moment that it hit me the hardest that I was in America and I could not just walk back home anytime I wanted. It was time to adjust to the culture, food and, as I came to learn, the weather. I called home and told my mum immediately that they didn’t have the food I liked (spicy and flavored). She told me I had to learn how to cope with it as this will be my home for the next four years.

Before coming to Concordia I believed that the campus would be moderately diverse with a good number of students from different cultures and fitting in would be just fine. Arriving to Concordia, I faced a very different harsh reality: there were only three Nigerian students and about 12 African students in general. Although we were all from the same continent we were still so different, and I needed more Nigerians to make me feel at home here at Concordia. Looking around, I knew that that was not going to happen and I had to learn again to cope with something I could not change.

Being an introvert, the easiest way for me to cope was being by myself. But then it made me wonder how other international and minority students were coping. Was it as easy as sitting alone in DS? Or did they need more company to feel at home? I made friends with some of my clubbies, but beyond that I had no more than two American friends. Then I met my peer mentor, Gaya Shivega, who offered me her apartment to cook home-like foods whenever I was hungry. This was a huge victory for me, knowing that there was another student who shared my same interests, knew the story and was willing to help me. I found my little bubble of other international students and to me that was home, but there were other students who wanted to learn about America from American students, but were scared to take that big first step. “What if they don’t understand my English?” they asked. “What if they don’t want to be my friend? What if I embarrass myself?” There were so many what ifs and by the end of the day, they didn’t want to even try.

To American students I always say try asking international students more than “how are you” while you speed pass them. Try to invite them to DS without a whole table of your other friends, because they might be shy and uncomfortable. It doesn’t hurt to ask questions about our cultures because most of us are willing to share. However, do a little research before asking, because I personally believe there are stupid questions that no one ever has answers for.

My reply to the international students is always: why not try, and then go from there? Step out of your little bubble once in awhile and join some student organizations that might interest you and trust me, you will learn alot from your fellow American Cobbers. This experience is always a two-way road and everyone involved has to be equally dedicated.

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