International Student Support Office (ISSO): Cultural Adjustment

Hi, fellow international friends and everyone that lives very far from Haverford College!

Studying away from home is a challenge. Once you arrive on campus, you will start a long process of adaptation and self-discovery. This is true for every single one of you, but to the people who live far from Haverford, there are a couple more adjustments to go through especially if far means another country and therefore culture, system, etc.

These are some of the things I have noticed since I arrived at college:

1. Greetings
In my country, everyone says ‘Hi’ to everyone even if they do not know each other. This does not happen that often here and I feel awkward when I cannot decide whether to greet certain people or not. It is even more awkward when I do greet them and they do not answer or look away. If you come from a country like mine, you might feel hurt (I did!) the first few times this happens to you. Just know that there is nothing wrong with you and that this is just the culture around here.

2. Greetings part 2.
Besides not knowing when to greet people, I also had a hard time figuring out how to greet them. Unless it is a formal occasion or you do not know the person, back home we greet them with a kiss on each cheek and if you are close to the person it is followed by a hug. Here, however, people will either just say ‘Hi’ or they will reach for your hand for a handshake, sometimes even if you’re friends!

3. Clothing
Dressing up to go to college is very common back home. So my first week of classes, I tried to look decent. I avoided wearing jeans, put some makeup on, and wore formal looking flats. As I walked to campus I quickly realized that people were not dressing up. That was actually so relieving to me! I stopped wearing makeup, started wearing jeans and my feet were thrilled when I started wearing sport shoes, which made walking from the apartments to classes and the Dining Center much, much easier!

4. Hours
Here, nothing starts until 8:00 A.M. and to me that is late. I was used to waking up at around 5:30 A.M. and starting my day at around 6:45 A.M. I did not particularly complain about being able to wake up later though. What really got into my nerves, however, was dinner time. People start having dinner at 5 P.M. and I was used to having dinner at around 8 P.M. During my first semester, I refused eating dinner earlier than that and ended up being almost isolated from my group of friends that did eat dinner earlier, so I eventually got used to it.

5. Imperial system
This can be a complete post on itself. I am still not used to speaking in feet, inches, miles, Fahrenheit, pounds, etc, etc. Even after 10 months living in the United States, when I had to buy boxes to store all my belongings during the summer, I struggled to picture what a 12X12X12” box looked like. A 30X30X30 box makes more sense to me. So, I would advise to either learn how to convert to the units you are used to or download a converter app.

6. Roads
The first time I tried crossing roads in the US was embarrassing. At first, I did not realize that there were traffic lights for people at all. So I would just cross whenever cars were not coming or they stopped. When I realized people stopped for traffic lights too, I stopped and waited and waited and waited and the lights never changed until someone else came and pressed a weird button on the traffic lights on my side (some of them do not have the button). I felt so dumb when I saw the little sign that said: “to cross, push button”. And that is how I learned to cross roads in the US.

The ‘little’ sign:

These are some of the things I had to get used to here in the US. Even though you might have a completely different experience than mine, I would still suggest the strategy I used:

Observe and adapt.

Whenever you are unsure that something is okay to do, observe. Check out how your friends behave in certain spaces. If you are still unsure, reach out to your customs people, peers, or even professors and deans. They will help you out! Also know that it is okay not to adapt. Even today I keep saying ‘Hi’ to everyone because it is a feature of my culture that I do not want to give up!

I am looking forward to meeting all of you and getting to know you. If you have any questions, concerns or want me to write about something here on the blog, feel free to reach out to me at kaguero@haverford.edu.