Dec 082004
Authors: B.A. Klaene

Editor's Note: This is the second of a three part series surrounding the unique experience of international students on CSU's campus.

Missing Grandma's cookies is the least of some students' worries when preparing to study abroad.

Seth Webb, a program coordinator for International Programs at CSU said most students go through a cycle of culture shock when they study abroad. Typically students start with a honeymoon phase, in which everything they experience confirms that they made the right choice to study abroad.

Second, many students get frustrated or annoyed with little differences. Often students will begin to compare their home and their culture to the new environment that they are living in.

Finally, students start to accept cultural differences and realize that the differences are important and then decide what they will want to integrate into their lives when they return home.

"It's a cycle that is individual for every student. The degree that each student will experience culture shock and how they will be in a particular stage or another," Webb said. "If it doesn't happen then it means that their cultural heart is not beating and that they are not being challenged."

Some of the Saudi Arabian students grew up in the United States or have lived here for extended periods of time on and off throughout their lives.

Ahmed Khogeer, a chemical engineering Ph.D. student from Saudi Arabia grew up in the United States and but had a difficult time readjusting to life in the United States after living in Saudia Arabia for a while.

"The first time I came (back to the United States) to drive, I kept creating accidents because the green light in my country means you're right to go. Here, you get arrows and both lanes go," Khogeer said.

Some students adapt to transitions more easily than others.

"I didn't find it difficult to adapt to the culture, I really haven't changed anything," said Omar Alhzmi, a computer science Ph.D. student from Saudi Arabia. "Everything was expected from the movies and from what I heard from people. So I enjoyed the freedom of religion, freedom of media and openness. There are no restrictions."

Khaleel Alyahya, a neurobiology Ph.D. student from Saudi Arabia experienced reverse culture shock when he returned to his home country.

"It was sort of difficult when I came here but over time it became easier," Alyahya said. "Now when I go back I find it difficult to adapt to that culture. I feel that I belong to this culture, too because I have been here for six years. When I go back so much has changed that I need time to adapt to that culture."

Alyahya also said driving was different in the two countries.

"Here I care about stop signs because I have to," Alyahya said. "(In Saudi Arabia) they don't care about stop signs. Even to stop for two seconds you have to expect that someone will hit you from the back and it will be your fault."

The Saudi Arabian students also discussed the way the two cultures have mixed.

"The western culture influences the eastern cultures. You can find in our culture so many things that come from this culture, sometimes there aren't that big of changes," Alyahya said.

Alyahya said many of his friends and family are proud to display whatever knowledge they have of western culture, including English words and phrases.

Manuela Goller, a graduate student from Germany studying German at CSU said what is popular in the United States is also popular in Germany.

"We have a big influence of American food, music, movies, TV shows," Goller said. "Shows like "The Simpsons" and "South Park" are popular in Germany. We get MTV and shows like "Pimp my Ride.'"

Ku Birm Kwon, a senior Biochemistry student from South Korea said academic experiences at CSU are much different than at home.

"The U.S. schools are very different because the individual is very important," Kwon said. "In South Korea the whole class is more important than the individual."

Kwon also compared study groups in the United States to those in South Korea.

"In the U.S. you sit in groups and ask questions to each other," Kwon said. "In my country you sit in a group and everyone works quietly."

Goller said the feel of her hometown university in Germany is very different than CSU, too.

"My university is in a kind of a medieval town, right downtown with old buildings that are protected by the government. It felt completely different coming over here," Goller said.

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