Students from abroad get comfortable

International students adjust to life at the University and in the United States.

Cati Vanden Breul

For most new students at the University, orientation involves following a maroon-and-gold clad guide around campus, learning how to navigate from building to building.

But for incoming international students, it’s a little more complicated. Many are in the United States for the first time with much more to get used to than the layout of campus.

The University’s International Student and Scholar Services Office is helping the students get accustomed to life at a new school in a new country.

The initial differences in culture, values and norms international students experience can be overwhelming and might lead to culture shock, said Kay Thomas, director of the services office.

Culture shock is when “all your customary ways of doing things don’t work in the new culture and you get frustrated and maybe a little depressed and angry,” Thomas said.

To help international students recognize some of the differences between the United States and their home countries, the services office held a series of 6.5-hour orientation sessions in August. At the sessions, students met one another, asked questions and discussed some of the challenges they might face in the future.

Students addressed a variety of topics, from how to make new friends and overcoming ingrained stereotypes of Americans to adjusting to the grueling Minnesota winter.

Johann to Büren, an undergraduate exchange student from Germany, said he’s used to hearing stereotypes about Americans and seeing them in movies.

They’re sometimes viewed as loud and ignorant, he said.

“Most people in the (European Union) think they know Americans well from TV, but in fact there are a lot of differences you don’t see on first glance,” to Büren said. “You can’t generalize.”

The agriculture senior will be here for one semester and said he is excited to partake in the party scene on campus.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know some Americans and have a good time,” to Büren said.

While some international students adjust to life in the United States quickly, for others it takes some time.

Natsuki Ubukata, a geography junior from Japan who transferred to the University this semester from St. Cloud State, said it was hard for her to feel comfortable around her peers at first.

Ubukata came to the United States as a first-year student two years ago. Mastering English and making friends was difficult, she said.

She advised new exchange students to take risks such as talking to people instead of wasting time being lonely.

“Don’t wait; ask people if you have questions and just don’t be shy,” Ubukata said.

Joining intramural sports and student groups is a good way for international students to get involved on campus and make friends, Thomas said.

She said comfortable living space is also important for students trying to get used to life in a new country.

“They should start getting their study space and room set up so they feel like they are creating a new home,” she said.

For international students experiencing emotional, financial or documentation issues, the services office offers free counseling services.