Study abroad culture shock

My name is Tayo Odunlami, I was born and raised in Nigeria and spent the first 18 years of my life there before I decided to come to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where I graduated with a degree in architectural studies. I currently work at a design firm, while residing in Chicago.

Living in the same country for most of your life and then moving to another one can at times be a huge culture shock to say the least. Even though I was fortunate enough to have travelled to different countries thereby experiencing diverse cultures, this was not enough to prepare me for the culture shock that came from moving to America for college. I wish someone would have sat me down and had a talk with me and prepared me for my move to America; I thought the numerous TV shows that I watched would be sufficient but I was so wrong. Here are a couple of things I had to find out on my own that helped me survive in America.

Keep an open and accepting mind, I believe this quality has helped me immensely. You’re going to meet a lot of people in college; a good majority of these people are going to behave in a manner contrary to what you consider the norm. But this contradictory manner is not necessarily a bad thing. There is a lot to learn from such people and some of them may go on to become your closest friends. The biggest mistake you could make is to decide to close yourself off from making new connections because a person may seem too strange to you at first glance. You’d be closing yourself off to a much broader cultural experience if you choose to ignore people that can offer so much in terms of culture.

If possible find others from cultures similar to yours and befriend them, especially those that have been in the country longer than you have. This helps to soften the blow that comes from living in a culture different from yours. These friends will be able to advice you on various aspects of everyday living in the country. It is common for a lot of foreign students to want to stick to themselves and go through college focused on only getting good grades, so as to make their family proud. It is very important to try and find a group of people to help you adapt to the new culture.

Finally, don’t be afraid to try new things. Initially when I moved to America I was only interested in sticking to what I knew. I chose not to try food that I hadn’t tried before, this led to me eating a whole lot more junk food than can be considered healthy. But food aside, there is so much I learnt about myself because I decided to try new things. I think one of the most important things about college is it aids in self-discovery and growth, it is impossible to discover yourself without branching out and trying things. So I urge those studying abroad, either for a short while or for their entire college life, to embrace the unfamiliar and step out of their comfort zones.

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