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What is it like to be an international student in the US? #Skills #IAmTheFaceOfDiversity

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

Graduate Students Group Picture

Photo Credit: Drajat S. Seto.

Author: Rosangeles Rivera Nuñez.

¨Diversity is the art of working independently together¨ (Malcolm Forbes). Sometimes we find a place where we feel that we belong, a place where we feel welcome and comfortable with the way things work, but in such a diverse world, as human beings, we have to learn, adapt and change. These are great qualities that contribute to our development in many aspects of our lives. To take advantage of what the uniqueness of our differences has to offer, first, we have to be aware of them. At some point in our lives, we were exposed to those differences in a certain way such as in our daily life, through social media, or by meeting someone from another country. The truth is that on some occasions this doesn't prepare us to face what diversity truly is. From a perspective that we can understand and appreciate.

As an international student in the United States, I could explore diversity to its maximum expression. I took the challenge to live in a foreign country for the first time and develop in a multicultural environment for 10 months. At first, I had many uncertainties about how it is going to be to live in another country with a completely different culture than the Dominican Republic. In fact, not only that was the challenge. I had to live with five girls from other countries in Orlando, Florida. Many preconceived questions arose.

  • How would it be to live with a Muslim individual?

  • How would it be to adapt to a new language and a distinct culture?

Even with those uncertainties, I knew one thing. I want to learn from other cultures, I want to share my culture, and I want to make friends from all over the world.

Insight 1 - Expanding your horizons will also expand your mindset.

Valencia College Sign

The first step was to come to the United States to study Tourism and Hospitality Management at Valencia College for 1 academic year through the Community College Initiative Program, an international scholarship founded for the U.S Department of State. Studying in a different educational system from my country was impactful on my academic and professional improvement. I learned to adapt to a different outlook on education in a more competitive environment. The performance-based approach in the U.S. encouraged me to aim beyond the standards and be able to excel holistically in my development. And I don't want to slow down.

The best way to describe this experience is by getting out of my comfort zone. Have you heard of the correlation between adaptation and intelligence? As a matter of fact, change is part of life, but adapting and learning from changes will enhance the way you live. Every time we adapt to changes and expand our frame of mind, we open our eyes to new opportunities and a new world of possibilities.

The educational system in the United States #empowers me to research, analyze, comprehend and thrive in critical thinking. It is a place where we can have a different perspective on topics in a respectful setting and is an environment in which individuals are welcome to contribute in their unique way to create synergies that make a real difference.

Allow yourself to experience new things. The ability to adapt to new experiences is an opportunity to expand your vision of the world and enrich yourself with intellectual diversity as well as a broader panorama that will help you develop in many aspects of your life.

Insight 2 - Our differences are what makes the world beautiful.

Students Showing Inked Palms

Have you imagined a world where everybody is the same? That would be boring, right? Can you imagine a world with just an ice cream option? That would be catastrophic. No one in the world is like someone else. Every individual is different and unique. Those characteristics make the world a fascinating place.

Peanut butter is good, but peanut butter and jelly are even better. Cookies are good, but cookies and milk are amazing. So as these pair well, people's differences - when working together - creates something even better. We can see things that we couldn't see before because we enjoy the privilege of looking at the world with different eyes, from different perspectives.

This opportunity allowed me to become more passionate about diversity and appreciate our differences, and it is an extraordinary feeling when we show appreciation and respect for other people's cultures. Besides, we can learn valuable lessons and create great connections that enrich our lives.

A way to embrace and show appreciation for other individuals' cultures is learning how to say Hi! in their native language. Learn about their culture as they do about yours.

One of my biggest accomplishments in my time in the United States was the human connections that I had the honor to create. Important friendships that taught me many lessons about life and showed the beauty of dancing their cultural dance together, the taste of the delicious cuisine of their countries, and the meaningfulness behind their life stories and culture.

Insight 3 - Our differences are not a barrier if we try.

When people travel to another country, they face many challenges. Occasionally the language, the culture, or the social organization can be a challenge. It is different for everyone. From my perspective, when I arrived in this country I faced some challenges adjusting to the language, even though I had a high intermediate level, it was my first time being exposed a hundred percent to a different language than my mother tongue. However, this wasn't an obstacle because I was willing to improve. After six months of living in the U.S. and making a great effort to improve, I found myself speaking English comfortably and with more fluency. I still have a lot to learn. I appreciate it when people are aware that as an international student I have to work hard, sometimes even harder than others to understand language and culture. That doesn't invalidate what I am capable of accomplishing.

We have to be willing to adapt to different environments and be hospitable to those who come from other cultures, to help them feel welcome, and differences not be seen as a barrier; but rather our strength.

How can we be hospitable and considerate with our international friends?

  • Be aware of our differences, learn from each other.

  • Be willing to learn.

  • Be patient. When speaking, if someone has an inconvenience understanding the first time, repeating the statement is a good idea, even at a slower pace would be appreciated.

  • Don't base your impression on preconceptions that might be wrong. Give it a chance!

  • Ask about their culture and share yours.

  • Appreciate and embrace diversity.

How can we as international friends adapt to other cultures better?

  • Be aware of our differences. There's so much that we can learn from other cultures.

  • Be willing to learn!

  • Don't base your impression on preconceptions that might be wrong.

  • Ask about their culture and share yours.

  • Appreciate and embrace diversity.

To sum up, exposure to diversity taught me new ways of looking at the world which enhanced my creativity, cultural awareness and leadership skills because from a socio-cultural standpoint I learned to work in a diverse and multicultural environment that I could forward apply in my internship, in the classroom or in my day to day. Furthermore, It helped me to network in a more effective manner. I improved my communication skills in both English and Spanish and learned to connect with people of different ideas, cultural backgrounds, ages, nationalities, intellectual abilities, personalities, stories and languages by embracing diversity.

Author Photograph

Photo Credit: Landen Conner


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