Culture Shock: Language and physical appearance  

College. University. These two words, for many, are synonymous with newfound independence, freedom, friends, more classes, and the start of adulthood. However, for those of you who have decided to move abroad for college, those two words may be synonymous with ambiguity and uncertainty. As a second-year international student here at the University of Denver, if there is one thing I wish I could have done differently, it would be to better prepare myself for the culture shock that comes with moving to an entirely different country. I would like to preface this post by stating that I would regularly visit Denver every couple of summers, so my experience will not be the same as yours. However, I hope that by sharing my story, you can identify with some of the worries and excitement that we might share.  

According to a very quick Google search, culture shock is defined as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.” I can confirm that this is what it felt like moving from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Denver, Colorado. From the way people spoke to the way people used the bathroom was vastly different to the community in which I was surrounded by. Every day I was challenged with the fear that I did not grow up the way my classmates did. However, since I had attended an American International school, I kind of blended in with the way I dressed and got by with the way I spoke. This was a problem on its own because I’d ask questions that appeared to be “common knowledge” and I’d get weird looks. Then I’d have to clarify that I didn’t grow up in America but knew enough to get by. Sometimes I wouldn’t or couldn’t sum up the courage to ask for clarifications, so sometimes I’d just stay silent and slightly confused.  

I would like to preface this by saying that English is my first and only language that I speak. However, being an international student was enough to worry me that my English might be a big indicator that I am not an American and that my knowledge is quite limited. I’ve picked up certain pronunciation of certain words (if you listen hard enough, some of the words I say make it seem like I’m Canadian). For most of you, this might be a little bit different because English might not be your first language or even your second. As a student who attended an international school for my whole life, the vibrance of tone and accent was so heavily part of my life, that moving to the States where I couldn’t hear that in peoples’ voices was quite jarring.  

However, I would like to advise you to be proud of the way you speak. It holds power as it represents much of who you are. While it may be a large indicator that you are an international student, that must not stop you from conversing with classmates and should not be something you should be ashamed of. You may need to repeat things, explain and elaborate, however, those who are willing to listen will make themselves clear. 

There are several affiliation clubs such as the Asian Student Alliance Club, Latine Student Alliance Club, Black Student Alliance Club, African Students United, Muslim Student Alliance Club, and the Native Student Alliance Club and many more. DU strives to promote diversity and we can make a change to help you find the communities that bring home to you

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