This post was updated Jan. 16 at 3:45 p.m.
As an international student at UCLA, I have experienced some awkward and sometimes hilarious misunderstandings and situations in my everyday interactions with Americans. In addition to pronouncing words differently, walking on the wrong side of the road and not understanding common idioms and references, here are some of the awkward experiences and misunderstandings that international students have had.
“People tend to assume that we don’t speak English, which is really weird. The reason that we’re called international students is because we most likely went to an international school that either has an American or British-based curriculum.”
- Ann Chen, Taiwan, second-year nursing student
“I guess being Singaporean, people say stuff like ‘I heard you don’t have gum there?’ and ‘It’s a really clean place.’ But both are true so I don’t really take offense or anything.”
- Nanshan Li, Singapore, second-year civil engineering student
“I think that my most awkward experience as an international student is defending that I’m an international student because I don’t have an ‘accent’ and have a very ambiguous ethnicity. Either that or when people ask where I am originally from having to point in a map the Dominican Republic even though it was the first country colonized in America.”
- Diana Tejeda, Dominican Republic, first-year political science and international development studies student
“It’s really weird being asked why I speak such fluent English, and I’m usually met with surprise when I tell people that there’s a huge network of schools (in India) that instruct only in English and that most people communicate in English.”
- Kshitija Shah, India, second-year biochemistry student
“People are shocked if you have fluent English, especially if you don’t hold a US passport or something to explain it.”
- Li-Jay Jackie Lin, Taiwan, second-year biology student
“People tend to assume that I am of a certain race, which does not offend me, but it surprises them when they find out that I am not.”
- Joy Harjanto, Indonesia, second-year mathematics/economics student
“Every time I said I’m from Vietnam, everyone had the same response: ‘Oooh, I love pho.’”
- Anh Minh Nguyen, Vietnam, second-year economics student
“Because I’m from Kenya, I always get people asking me about wild animals running around and whether it’s scary to live like that. But really, you can’t find wild animals unless you go a few hours out of the city, because they are all in game parks that are surrounded by fences. That’s one of the most common misunderstandings for me.”
- Aika Patel, Kenya, second-year economics student
For many international students, these misunderstandings are not offensive, since domestic UCLA students simply just do not know much about other countries’ cultures. That being said, the message is clear: International students who speak “perfect” English are more often the rule than the exception!