Being an international student dramatically changes the college experience, especially coming straight from your home country, having no friends and few connections.
Coming from Ukraine, I’ve had a first-hand experience on what it means to be one and how to adjust to a new cultural environment. Growing up I’ve been always really close to my family and never thought of being separated from them by an ocean. But my parents gave me an opportunity for a better life with better education, and so my senior year of high school I agreed to submit an application and move away.
I had little idea about the United States, or the mentality of the people, and I was a quite naïve 16 year old, always living by my parents’ side. Since my uncle worked on campus, my parents decided for me to go to school in Boulder, where I would have some connection.
From the moment I got here, everything was different. Before going to CU Boulder, my only experience in listening to American English speech and trying to understand it came from silly teenage TV-shows, such as Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries. It took me 2 years to fully adjust to understanding everyone around me: jokes, slang, shortcuts, movie references, without having to try to translate sentences in my mind and ask others what they mean.
This hardly increased my amount of friends: some people think you’re weird or ignorant because of your difficulty with basic conversational skills, others are “nice” just to your face. The whole mindset of American society is so different from that in the Ukraine, but I didn’t understand the differences at the time, so I acted the same way towards everyone as I would’ve at home.
The biggest distinction related to people, in a nutshell, is openness. In my home country, people are a lot meaner and ruder. But, you always know what to expect from them. They don’t falsify their relationships when it comes to friendship and likeness, and from the very first conversation you can tell if the person genuinely likes you. In the US, on the contrary, it is the norm to be nice. People aren’t always nice because they want to get to know someone, in most cases they do so because it’s the standard of life. This can be both a bad thing and a good thing, depending on how you perceive the situation.
The educational system was also a big transition point for me. In Ukraine, all of the classes are in the same building, and there is one single group of people who chose to pursue the same career path, and with whom you spend most of your college career throughout all of the classes. From one point of view, the American system was better, because you are able to meet many different people, but on the contrary, you make most of your friends during freshman year and living in the dorms, rather than having one group of people you know well.
Something I really enjoyed about the US was freedom, and this is something I wish we had back in Ukraine. Freedom to choose what you want to study: Japanese history, fairytales or even vampires. Back home, there was only one pre-assigned schedule that you had to follow, but here, you can choose, even within your major. And there’s so many of them, it really gives the opportunity to figure out what you want. I hated Boulder at first. It was the opposite of everything I was used to: big city, nightlife, clubbing, the beach, drinking age of 18. But after spending time here, I got everything I needed: friends, the mountains and the concept of hiking, all time sunny weather, and always finding fun things to do, being a college student and all.