Over the past few days we’ve learned more than we ever wanted to know about how Americans see their international classmates. Thanks to an anonymous survey, we’ve been able to get the honest truth – the good, the bad, and the unexpected.
If you missed it:
- Part 1: The Truth – What Americans Really Think of International Students
- Part 2: Why Aren’t Americans and International Students Becoming Friends?
But about half the students who took our survey were international students, and they had plenty to say about their American classmates as well.
Thuy and American classmate Alex debate who should do more to overcome the cultural differences
While 50% of international students told us that they relate to Americans as well as or better than they do to other international students, most also seemed acutely aware of the cultural barriers between themselves and their American classmates.
“I have really nice American friends. In fact, they are my best friends here,” said Vikram from the University of Chicago. “But, in terms of “relating to them”, obviously there will be differences because of the differences in our cultures.”
“The things they do, the way they think, their mindset and attitude on life in general are different from that of international students,” added an Oberlin student.
And whereas the Americans who talked about cultural differences did so in broad terms, international students were willing and able to point out specific American attributes that have surprised them or, more often, annoyed them.
Characteristics such as:
Focus on self
“… the one thing that bugs me is that Americans are more about self and less about give-and-take.”
“I think American students care about their achievements. Whenever I go to my Fulbright events, all I hear people talk about is their scholarships. In my country we don’t ask what people do. It’s impolite in my country to do so.” – Georgetown University student
“They live in a different world altogether. Many can be condescending and patronizingly pitiful towards international students (even though they mean well), and sometimes offensive.”
“[They] think that the world is only America.”
“They are more friendly. They are respectful of diverse culture and assist to make you accustomed to the American society.” – College of Idaho student
“We aren’t open and outgoing like them” – University of Charleston student
But several international students also cautioned against painting Americans with too broad a brush (making generalizations).
“One [American] student can be really different from another, so there is no general pattern to look for,” said an Oberlin College international student. “LGBQT, class differences, Midwesterners vs [New York] people, you can find someone who you think might fit along this line but it does not turn out to be true.”
And Kataryna chided us, “This question is biased. Would you ask a question about all Chinese students or all Russian students?”
The raw comments
The international students who took our survey wrote long form answers to two questions: (1) Why do you think you do or do not relate to American students; (2) Why do you think Americans do or do not try to get to know international students? Here is every single comment we received – unedited and with names removed for privacy.
Why do you think you do or do not relate to American students?
(50% of international students responded they relate to Americans as well as or better than they relate to other international students)
I think i can relate because English is my native language, and being Catholic I grew up in a westernized environment. Also I have an open mind about different cultures.
Friendly and helpful.
I’m in a fraternity house with lots of American friends.
I generally do but the one thing that bugs me is that Americans are more about self and less about give-and-take.
I have really nice American friends. In fact, they are my best friends here. But, in terms of “relating to them”, obviously there will be differences because of the differences in our cultures. But, I think difference in opinions are necessary in order to induce reason and well-thought views in people.
They are more friendly. They are respectful of diverse culture and assist to make you accustomed to the American society.
“Things that relate to American students are our age. We are young, we like to party ect. Things that don’t relate to American students are language barrier. Even though we try to speak in English sometimes it’s hard to express myself because we weren’t born in the U.S. “
Sometimes, it can be hard for Americans to understand and relate to the completely different background of the international student. They don’t know what’s it like in whatever country we come from.
I was raised in a large and cosmopolitan city. The biggest reason I suppose though is that we used to host students from other countries at my home and I was involved exchange programs so it gave me an insight about their culture. My family is very traditional but a lot of TV shows and movies that I watched were more or less based on the western perspective so I knew about what to expect. Though everything didn’t turn out like movies the simple things did so I was easily able to relate to them. Another reason is that I do not mind if other people don’t understand my culture and I always try to understand things from others perspective.
I was exposed to American culture throughout my childhood (TV, movies, books, etc.) and had extensive contact with Americans through the internet before coming to college.
(50% of international students responded they relate to Americans worse than they relate to other international students, or not at all)
They live in different world altogether. Many can be condescending and patronisingly pitiful towards international students( even though they may mean well), and sometimes offensive.
The cultural differences effect a lot how people view life(the issues they are concerned about, the social and moral values, approach to others etc.) Most of the international students in my social environment are from Asian countries and thus they are brought up in a similar culture to me and I find it easier to communicate with them not because we have similar ideas but we are used to live our lives in a more similar way compared to Americans.
One american student can be really different from another, so there is no general pattern to look for. LGBQT, class differences, Midwesterners vs new york people, you can find someone who you think might fit along this line but it does not turn out to be true. To an American, trying to befriend Oberlin students might itself be more challenging than befriending American people in general. For international students, they are thrown into the deep end when it comes to finding out these things. Categorizing people is a useful approach. People, including American students, do that all the time. But this is not a good habit.
different culture and we assume that native students don’t really wanna spend time on international students
related academically and professionally, but not personally
The things they do, the way they think, their mindset and attitude on life in general are different from that of international students.
cultural difference, and americans students have their own life, family, and friends. it is easy to build relationship with international students
its just the way we are raise is different
Cultural and language difference
we aren’t open and outgoing like them.
I think American students care about their achievements. Whenever I go to my Fulbright events, all I hear people talk about is their scholarships. In my country we don’t ask what people do. It’s impolite in my country to do so.
Only wanna share some experience
cultural gap and language obstacles, esp. English slang.
There are some major cultural differences. Some of the American Students are unable to understand my point of view sometimes, and some other times, things that for them are commonplace, for me seem weird. But, thanks to Hollywood and to the higher and higher exposure of American culture worldwide, I am able to understand some of the cultural aspects.
Because my values and interests are slightly different.
american students at w&l take no time at all to get to know or understand the international community. they are rude, not understanding and close minded. this goes as far as being openly xenophobic. naturally, this does not apply to everyone, but to a large fraction.
Why do you think Americans do or do not try to get to know international students?
(50% of international students responded that they think Americans make an effort to get to know international students or that they don’t feel it requires special effort)
I think there are some Americans who are particularly interested in getting to know international students, maybe because of their interest in different cultures. There are some that view international students the same as Americans in which case the effort depends on personal reasons which I think is the most common case. I have never felt somebody was less willing to know me because I am international.
Sometimes people just look the same. If you are european, you might look the same as a lot of white people. If you are from Asia, you might look like Asian-American. It is difficult to tell who is “”international”" or who is not, particularly if the international students are from a certain demographic (i.e. white)
They do try to get to know international students because as much as we, international students, want to know more about them, they want to learn more about us and about where we come from.
You can’t really generalize Americans as a whole! It all depends. Some people like making international students their friends, some don’t. Simple. Some might want to know international students to know more about different cultures, while some are content being ignorant. That’s fine, though. Everyone should be free to choose his/her own way in living life.
It depends on the interest level of people. This question is biased. Would you ask a question about all Chinese students or all Russian students? Some people are interested in other cultures. Other people are not.
To makes a friends
International students are going to contribute to the culture of tomorrow’s America.
They like to get to know us because they are interested in other cultures.
The people who try to get to know international students might be genuinely interested to know more about different cultures and the people who do not try to get to know international students probably don’t know what they could relate to or what they could talk about.
Because some of them want to be open to new possibilities and experiences.
(50% of international students responded that they do not think Americans make an effort to get to know international students)
They are arrogant
communication might be a big issue
They try to know the development of business related to my major in China, and some Chinese culture, but no interest to know how intl students struggle to live here.
Those that do are usually interested in learning about other cultures. Those that don’t sometimes have preconceived notions about international students, which prevent them from appreciating other cultures.
When they’re in their own country and there’s a minority outsider who they’ll have to put particular effort into getting to know, I think most of them just don’t bother.
They have been raised that way, or should we say the “American Bubble”.
again some are interested, some don’t care.
It’s because they find us different.
they think that the world is only america
some americans loves the idea of diversity whereas some does not. I feel like american people think that we are alien and does not have common things…. May be they want to just mingle with the americans…
Internationals students never reach out to Americans students and vice versa
They don’t have to. They have their own close American friends.
Some people want to experience new stuff so they try to get to know international friends , but the other doesnt want new things.
they do not have [an] interest in international student
They don’t like to get to know us because they don’t care.
They are busy in their world and friends. there are very few students who think about international students are also part of community and make some efforts.
Sometimes they seldom talk with you.
Some international students work well towards integrating themselves with the core student body, others focus on maintaining relations with students with their own background. The latter group is the one that tends to remain disconnected, as they form semi-exclusive cliques and they can be difficult and/or intimidating to approach.
I feel like being a guest in America. I am welcomed and I enjoy about the same rights as the “hosts”, but at the same time, I have to conform to the “rules of the house”. This being said, I think that American students do not necessarily need to go out of their way to take care of the customs of each individual international student. Also, given how many international students we have, each with his own culture and background, it is very hard to define a norm for the international students themselves, other than them being,in some aspects, different from the American students.
Same reason why I do not adopt values and interests of my American peers, I just don’t relate to another set of values as well as I do with my own.