Sunday, June 16

Quad Questions: What do domestic UCLA students get wrong about international students?

(Creative Commons illustration by GDJ via Openclipart)

(Creative Commons illustration by GDJ via Openclipart)

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!

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Brenda Chan is a Quad contributor. She likes writing about fitness, nutrition, lifestyle and education.

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  • Lance

    Excellent insight. Let’s face it, being an international student isn’t easy, given our complex culture and language. Assimilation assistance must come from numerous sources to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey. Many struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand so we all have a win-win situation.

    One such new award-winning worldwide book/ebook that reaches out to help anyone coming to the US is “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” It is used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors. It also identifies “foreigners” who became successful in the US and how they’ve contributed to our society, including students.

    A chapter on education explains how to be accepted to an American university and cope with a confusing new culture, friendship process and daunting classroom differences. Some stay after graduation. It has chapters that explain how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.

    It also has chapters that identify the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.

    Good luck to all at UCLA or wherever you study!