Culture shock

Before your first year at Penn State, you probably worried about not being able to watch your favorite TV shows, dealing with the far-away Nittany Mall and not seeing high school friends. For those who come from outside the country, they is more to be anxious about on top of the items on your list: adjusting to the American lifestyle. Valley asked, and international students share their moments of culture shock.

Dan Mena, a sophomore nuclear engineering major from Ecuador, was pleasantly surprised by how nice people are in Happy Valley. “In my country, few people pay attention to you but here, people are friendly. If you say hi, people will say hi,” Mena said. “Race here is less important than my country.”

Kazuhiko Yokosawa, a first-year master’s degree student studying robotics, hails from—you guessed it—Japan where a typical college student has only one major. It was only natural that American students majoring in more than one thing weirded him out at first. “[I] wasn’t familiar with the system,” Yokosawa said.

Hashim Al Nemer is an Intensive English (IECP) student from Saudi Arabia. Although he has been at Penn State since the beginning of 2011, he can still vividly recall his first day in the United States: “On my first day, I was with my American friend. In my culture, you greet people and shake their hands even if you don’t know them. But he looked surprised. I learned not [to shake hands] unless I know them well.”

Ehsan Espah, originally from Iran, is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in chemical engineering.  “It may be because of my personality, I didn’t feel any ‘culture shock’,” said Espah who is set to graduate this year.

Elizabeth Owczarkowska, a first-year Ph.D. student in molecular biology from Poland, says she “didn’t have a big culture shock … but language was a problem. I felt uncomfortable speaking English.” She also found that people are “more open, easygoing … American students ask more questions than Polish students.”

Also from Saudi Arabia is Motheeb Al Khashram, a junior computer and electronic engineering major. “When [Saudi Arabians] greet people we kiss on their cheeks, but it’s different here.” But even without friendly smooches on the cheek, Al Khashram enjoys Penn Staters’ company. “The open-mindedness of people here … is not the same as [what we see in] movies,” he said. Spending time at Penn State inspired him to become “more open-minded, try new things, with carefulness” and taught him a lesson: “America is not one culture, it’s multicultural.”

Photo by Rhiannon Hendrick

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