Culture Shock: “Common Knowledge”  

Admittedly, despite going to the American International School of Riyadh, my school more heavily emphasized on the “international” than the “American.” I’m not sure if what this blog post explains is a culture shock, but it was something I was quite unfamiliar with and wish someone would have told me about it before moving halfway across the world.  

Many of your classes, be it a STEM class or a film class, will cover a lot of “common knowledge” information, information that you “should have known” before coming to class. However, that “common knowledge” is only common for students who have grown up in the States. As many of you know, especially if you go to an international school, we don’t get the luxury of learning about only one country. You tend to learn world history or the history of a few counties outside of your own. While it meant I was able to identify more universal historic events, that information was rendered useless in my geography class that focused more on US geography (even worse if we covered Colorado geography). 

While it is not expected that you know every flood, president, war that has ever occurred in the country, it can become quite discouraging to partake in group conversations if you ever have to talk about those things. At least for me, personally, it felt like I didn’t quite have the voice to be part of those conversations because I felt like I would be holding the group back, or they would have everything explained to me. In some ways, it felt like I was a bit behind just because I was born outside of the country. 

This feeling of falling one step short was very exhausting and took a toll on my mental health. I was constantly anxious that I would have to be tested on something that most of my classmates already knew. So, what did I do? To be honest, not much. I would make note of every piece “common knowledge” and try to remember what my professor had stated that we had to know about. I would sometimes ask my roommate and friends if they knew about it, but that was just sometimes. If you want to be more proactive, I suggest that for 10 seconds, you take a moment of courage to raise your hand and ask the question. I’ve come to learn that sometimes even students who grew up in the States might not know as much as the student who grew up in Colorado. 

More few words of wisdom that I will share with you is that if you are feeling more nervous than usual, speak to your professor before or after class to inform them that as an international student, you don’t have the same background knowledge as everyone else. More likely than not, they can point you to some resources to help you “catch up” or might adjust the slides and lesson plan to cover topics a bit more in depth. You should also remind yourself that it’s not your fault for being an international student. If anything, you have more to offer about the world than anybody else in the room.  

It can get overwhelming sometimes, but remember, we are all here to learn and no one should be ashamed of wanting to know more. 

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