Ask for a rubber with the intention of fixing your stats homework and someone might just hand you a condom. See if anyone has a fag in the smircle and you’ll get dirty looks. Try to walk down the street and you’ll find it’s an obstacle course of never-before-seen electric scooters on the floor. Moving from one continent to the next is hard enough, but it’s even harder trying to navigate culture and social norms that are entirely new to you. International students have a whole new view on American culture and the college experience at Georgia State.
Glenn T. Eskew is coordinator of Georgia State’s exchange program and has been working with international students for the past 20 years. He is aware that international students find the approach to studies different here.
“Sometimes students have difficulties with the studies, because the approach to academic work is different in the U.S. to Great Britain, and they don’t prepare for frequent shorter assignments,” Eskew said.
Indeed, there seems to be a pattern with international students: They tend to find it easier to succeed in achieving high grades here at Georgia State.
“Classes are very easy compared to Europe, and it’s more like quantity rather than quality — a lot of reading and papers. My papers weren’t great and I still got very good grades. That wouldn’t happen in Europe,” André Frey, an exchange student from Switzerland, said.
In the UK, it is very rare to achieve over 90 percent in many essay-based degrees, for this would be considered almost expert level. In comparison, scoring over 100 percent in some classes is possible with “bonus questions” and with the option of “extra credit” or “make-ups” for those who are unsatisfied with their test scores — an alien concept to most European institutions who are only given the option to retake exams at the end of the year.
USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Generally, most international students can see a slight difference in how social media is used differently — specifically, how it’s used for self promotion.
“Everyone sells themselves. They’re like ‘Yeah I’m Martin, I work at a little firm. I’m the main social media manager.’ Actually, he’s just posting pictures on Instagram for a company but he’s, like, selling himself like he’s the greatest man on the whole…yeah,” Frey said.
Paris Spencer pointed out the possibility that Americans have moved on from a particular social network, Facebook. In September 2018, Pew Research Center found that 44 percent of young American users age 18-29 have deleted the app from their phones in the past year, but the rejection of this particular social media platform has yet to hit other countries.
“One difference I’ve noticed here, is how many people here who have asked for my Instagram instead of Facebook. It’s pretty much expected at home that you would have Facebook, but it seems to be much less popular amongst our age group in the US,” Paris Spencer from England said.
EVERYTHING IS FRIED
Meanwhile, on the food front, the general consensus of the international students is that the food doesn’t exactly encompass a healthy diet.
“The real surprising thing about the food here is that everything is fried — even the vegetables! This is really strange. I like the different types of food that are available here, but the bread here is really, really different to France and I don’t enjoy this,” Ferri said.
It is commonly known fact that America is host to a large number of fast food restaurants — approximately 152,000, with the average American spending $1,200 on fast food annually.
“Even though there are some healthy options offered at the dining halls, eating fast food or unhealthy in general is super common on and off campus,” Cimolino said.
To Europeans, Greek life is somewhat of an alien concept. It’s often seen in movies such as “Legally Blonde” or “Neighbors,” but many European students have little clue of the realities of sororities and fraternities as they do not tend to exist in Europe.
“It seems so superficial and ridiculous. In Europe, they just have associations and societies with purpose — like trying to promote things. I’ve heard things like, ‘You have to have a girlfriend from that specific sorority,’ and that’s ridiculous. Why would you change your life to be a part of a group and do stuff that isn’t natural?” Frey, from Switzerland, said.
When asked about their opinions on the membership fees owed to sororities and fraternities per term, both Frey and Ferri appeared shocked.
“I feel like it’s for people who are afraid of not having any friends, and want to be part of a community,” Frey said, following this realization.
Spencer was unaware that positive aspects of Greek life existed until after she had arrived in the U.S. and learned more about sororities and fraternities.
“Greek life isn’t something that exists in the UK, and from watching American TV and films, it’s often portrayed as a quintessential part of the American college experience,” Spencer said. “One thing I didn’t realise until I came to the U.S. though, was that a lot of fraternity and sororities seem to focus a lot on career advice and community events too. It’s always the party/ social scene that it’s emphasised most in the media.”
With the legal drinking age being 21 in the U.S., and 18 in most places in Europe, international students certainly find themselves having to adapt to a new social scene, resulting in surprising discoveries about substance abuse.
“In Europe, it’s much easier to get alcohol than drugs, but here it’s much easier to get drugs than alcohol. They are a lot stricter with ID in liquor stores, but we smell weed everywhere,” Ferri said. “You always know two or three people who know people who are selling drugs. One time I was walking in the club and a guy [approached me and] asked me if I wanted to get some molly and hard drugs.”
It was a surprise to Frey that not only was marijuana more accessible than alcohol, but some students at Georgia State delve in the world of drugs before tasting a drop of alcohol.
“What surprised me is that I’ve met people who have never drank alcohol, but smoke weed regularly. It would be the other way around in Switzerland. It’s weird because weed is also illegal here, as well as underage drinking — why does everyone focus so much on smoking weed and not drinking alcohol?” Frey said.
International students have not failed to notice the blatant presence of weed being smoked in dorms, and the apparent blind eye that is turned by members of authority working in housing.
“Even though rules on paper regarding ‘no alcohol/drugs on campus’ appear pretty strict, you can definitely smell weed in the dorms and other locations on campus on a regular basis. In general, I don’t get it why alcohol is prohibited until you’re 21 compared to the rest of the world,” Cimolino said.
International students tended to recognize a more casual style sported by students on campus in comparison to their countries. After all, it’s pretty common to come across an American student in yoga pants on a day-to-day basis.
“Fashion is very different. Especially as people in Munich generally tend to dress up a lot. People here generally dress up more sporty. Men and women. Personally I like that more,” Gessner said.
Indeed, the trend of athleisure has not gone unnoticed.
“I see a lot more people in jogging pants or sportswear on campus here compared to my university in Germany.” Cimolino said.
HOW CAN WE IMPROVE?
Eskew acknowledged that Georgia State does not always cater as best it can for international students, and for many, expectations are not met at all.
“Students come [to me] with concerns all the time and they are of a variety of natures. Sometimes it’s unfulfilled expectations, the difficulties of the cultural transition, [or] with a lack of connecting with local people,” Eskew said. “Sometimes, I regret to say, Americans…have harassed international students before, which is very disappointing to learn. Sometimes students are accustomed to culture that tolerates drinking and wild behaviour, and …get caught up in public in ways that wouldn’t happen at home.”
Georgia State could ensure that partner universities inform the students they are sending over of the city not being an entirely safe one, even in campus areas. Some feel restricted by what they can do and where they can go in the evening, and that they have not been informed that without a car, entertainment at weekends can be a little restricted.
“I think one of the most important things [Georgia State] should work on to cater better for international students, is to improve communication between departments, as it has been difficult sometimes to get information or advice on how to enroll in classes as an exchange student, how to make international payments etc. I think housing is one of the departments that would benefit most from this,” Paris said.
Furthermore, many admissions services and departments involved with the enrollment of international students could do with being more responsive to the students’ needs. These students have uprooted their lives to experience an American lifestyle and education, and to be met with numerous obstacles involving housing waiting lists, wrongly charged fees and their questions left unanswered for an unacceptable amount of time only makes adjusting and fitting in harder than it already is.
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