When senior Jason Teo Chutat first arrived at GW from Singapore in August, he said he was very nervous. He was forced to adjust to different customs, languages and classroom environments.
The classes at GW have a lot of discussion and interaction among students and teachers, which takes a while to get used to, he said.
At home, my teachers would spoon feed the information, Chutat said.
Chutat said he has adjusted to the initial culture shock after studying two months at GW. But the challenge of acclimating to U.S. customs remains difficult for many students.
Culture shock is a problem for many of the nearly 2,200 undergraduate, graduate and international students who come to Washington, D.C., every year.
While it is exciting to study in the United States, the transition can be overwhelming and scary at the same time, officials in the International Services Office said.
The ISO and staff members for International Colonial Inauguration help international students adjust to the culture shock they encounter in America.
It is courageous for a student to leave their country, where things are safe and predictable, said Angela Snyder, assistant director of the ISO.
Classes and social life can often be points of stress for GW’s international students.
Julio Trashlosheros, a graduate student from Mexico City, has been studying at GW for two years. He came to America knowing some English but said his knowledge of the language was not good enough.
After first arriving in the country, Trashlosheros said he often thought people were being rude.
Sometimes you meet students in class and they are very friendly but then you see them on the street and they don’t even say, `Hi,’ Trashlosheros said. And people don’t say good morning or good night to their neighbors.
Students and full-time staff members in ISO are trained to help students with different aspects of American life, providing informational sessions that range from banking to health insurance to adjusting to American cultural life.
Snyder said the process of change when anyone moves from country to country is called a U curve.
The top left side of the U is where students begin. This point is called the honeymoon stage, when students are full of excitement, she said.
Suzana Manole, a senior who has lived in the United States for five years, said she remembers the honeymoon stage of the U curve.
When I got here, it was like being in a different world, she said. The first week was like being in the movies.
After about two months, students typically experience day-to-day difficulties, which mainly involve language barriers because learning a new language can be tiring and often physically exhausting, Snyder said.
Students have different ways of dealing with their frustrations but many hit rock bottom at the lowest point of the U curve – when they often begin to feel angry with American culture and its differences from their own.
Manole, who plays for GW’s volleyball team, said she became annoyed with American culture after initial excitement because she thought it culture was strange.
As students become acclimated to American life, they move their way up the U curve, Snyder said.
Manole said she encourages international students to take it day by day, be a strong person, be open minded and try to enjoy learning.
Trashlosheros said it was a shock to study in a new environment away from his home in Mexico City.
Where I come from the teachers teach you everything and here it is hard to adjust to different English accents, he said.
The ISO runs several programs to help students adjust to life in America.
Some programs include support groups for international students, English conversational groups, support for students who have left a spouse behind in their home country and the Language Exchange Program, which is designed to provide opportunities for conversation between international and domestics GW students who speak different languages.
Language exchange programs allow American students to improve their language skills before going abroad, and also help international students practice their conversational English, Snyder said.
Another difference that Trashlosheros found involved family values.
In Mexico, Trashlosheros said many students live with their parents until they are 30, but Americans are more independent. They rely on their friends rather than family. He said the link between young people and their families is much stronger in his home country.
American students often have a difficult time interacting with international students for the first time.
U.S. students are part of the globe, Snyder said. It is not often that you can meet someone from China, Botswana and Nicaragua all at the same time.
She advises American students to reach out to international students and to take advantage of GW’s diverse campus.
Learning about other cultures broadens our horizons and helps us to gain general knowledge, said Luis Burgos, a sophomore from Ecuador.
Chutat said in order to enjoy the international experience, students should get to know American culture.
International students should be friendly, sociable and open to experience the culture, Chutat said. They should not say `we don’t do this at home, so I won’t do it here.’
Trashlosheros said studying at GW has taught him how people are similar, despite cultural differences.
You get to be more open to everything out there in the world, Trashlosheros said. Put yourself in other people’s positions. There will always be cultural differences but inside we are all basically the same.