Sex Issue: Culture can challenge foreign students

If living at home, Bangladesh native Refayat Haque would not see unmarried men and women publicly holding hands.

It’s forbidden. But in America and at GW, the taboos around sex dissimilate, Haque said, giving students from other countries new perspectives on sex and relationships.

“Sex is very taboo and sex before marriage is even worse. Almost everyone is Muslim and they aren’t supposed to have premarital sex,” Haque said of his home.

With scantily clad men and women on television and couples engaging in public displays of affection in plain sight, the sex culture at Western colleges and universities can challenge the beliefs of international students. In a study on Asian students adjusting to college life in the U.S., Dr. Jun-Chih Gisela of Texas A&M said a lack of familiarity with American customs and culture can sometimes cause international students to feel isolated.

“Many Asian international students feel uncomfortable with the individualism and competitiveness associated with the American culture, ” Dr. Lin said in her study.

But for Haque and other international students interviewed, America’s sexual culture was less of a shock because they attended international boarding schools before college.

Haque’s experiences freshman year led him to the conclusion that certain values held by college students weren’t for him.

“I realized what situations were good for me and what’s not. My morals and ethics are still how they were at home,” he said. “It wasn’t hard to adjust, but [it was] a bit weird.”

Faisal Rahimi, a student born in Fairfax who is ethnically Afghan, said he feels that Middle Eastern views, especially the views of Afghanistan’s government, are often closed-minded. Women are not treated equally and are often barred from positions of power, something very different from GW.

“GW is the total opposite of Afghanistan. The culture differs because here you have more freedom,” Rahimi said. “If the government finds out you’re gay, they will kill you. If you’re straight, you are prohibited from even holding hands in public if you aren’t married.”

Rahimi, who is a co-president of the Afghan Student Association, said he often sees members of his organization go through adjustments at GW.

Kaichen Zhang, a sophomore from China, said she believes American students rush in and out of relationships much easier at GW than in China.

“It’s like if A and B like each other, then they got into a relationship. If they didn’t match, they break up,” Zhang said. “However, in China, people don’t easily get into relationships. My observations here have a lot of things to do with the social norm, or the culture in the U.S.”

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