“If you can make it here…”: Culture shock and international students

Welcome to JFK! (CC0 image via Wikimedia)

Contributed by: Lebogang Matome, a student in the Touro Graduate School of Business class of 2017, working towards her M.S. in International Business & Finance.

From home America, was a dream. Being awarded an opportunity to come study in America, one can only dream of and plan all the places that they want to see, in New York particularly. What a bonus to come to NYC I thought, hoping to see all those places where some of my favorite movies and reality shows where based. I had expectations of celebrities on every corner and paparazzi everywhere, with the thought of photo bombing a celebrity. It’s a place where one is given the impression that money could actually be growing in trees. It seemed that everyone who lives in New York must be a celebrity with a luxurious life, and every day is a holiday, and every time you are sad, by some coincidence it will start raining while you are walking to catch a taxi and a soundtrack will come on. But then you arrive and finally get to discover that Hollywood is in another part of America, far from New York.

Once you get to JFK airport, you realize it is all really different from the picture painted by the media, and not exactly the glitz and glamour you looked forward to. One thing that you have to learn to do as quickly as possible is survive in a really fast economy, where everyone is very busy and too preoccupied to say “Hello” in the elevator. Actually, come to think about it, you stand out like a sore thumb because that is not the way it’s done in New York, as a colleague explained. It baffled me when I tried to explain to a friend that I sat next to a lady on a train, and I greeted her as I know is a norm when I sit next to someone, and she started to unload on me all the troubles of her life. My friend laughed as she said, “Nobody does that.”

The grammar and the pronunciations are also a really fascinating thing one will notice immediately, especially coming from an English-speaking country. That’s not to mention the different food brands which are totally unknown to most internationals coming to America for the first time. I walked through all the aisles to buy my first groceries, trying to figure out which brand could be better than the other, only to walk out with just toothpaste and a headache.

NYC is “indeed a united nation.” The Botswana flag is included on the left, with black and white stripes on a blue background.

In short New York City (not just Manhattan) is a very big place, which holds its own charm and character. It is the most interesting place I have been to by far. It is very diverse, and indeed a united nation. It is true to say America is surely the land of dreams. It instills independence and encourages nothing more than success, where work and earning a living is the ultimate goal on everyone’s mind. Like they say, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. NYC is a place where multi-million ideas are made, where hope is given, and the reason why most people come to America from overseas to make something of themselves in their country of origin. It’s a place where I can learn new technological ideas and different strategies that don’t exist in a 2nd world country like my beautiful Botswana.

For more on life as an international student and culture shock, see:

Garrod, A. & Davis, J. (Eds.). (1990). Crossing customs: International students write on U.S. college life and culture. New York: Routledge.

One thought on ““If you can make it here…”: Culture shock and international students

  1. Michoel Rotenfeld November 5, 2015 / 11:04 am

    Thank you for writing. An insightful post, though a bit heartbreaking. Of course, keep in mind that the culture of New York City is different from practically all the rest of America, so also try visiting another city sometime to see how the rest of America lives.

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