America: A culture shock to an international student

From 1951 to 1955, renowned journalist Edward R. Murrow hosted “This I Believe,” a daily radio show where individuals read brief essays about their personal philosophies, values, and core beliefs that shaped their daily actions. In 2005, National Public Radio resurrected the essay series and again invited Americans of all ages and perspectives to write brief essays about their core beliefs. This year, the Advocate also invites anyone in the MHCC community to contribute the same.


If someone told me that for dinner, I was going to have a giant bowl of cabbage, stew, chocolate, celery, noodles, lentils, and sushi, I would be terrified, because never in my life had I believed that such a combination of ingredients would be in the same bowl.

I would probably not have tried this dish prior to becoming a student in the United States, because I would have been scared, having never seen such an amalgamation of flavors before. But when I came to the U.S., that mixed bowl of fusion is exactly like what I saw in American culture. I was scared, but I tried it anyway, and I loved it. Despite my previous doubts and disbelief, I was more shocked by the ways in which I began to learn, grow, and thrive while I was here. This mixed bowl of American culture was like an herbal medicine, a catalyst to my success, and to what I owe my belief in the value of culture shock.

When I was a child, I believed in everything, and everything was beautiful. I was like wet cement – easily impressionable. I thought I had seen and felt it all. But it was not until I came to the United States that I would be truly shocked by anything or anyone. Upon arriving, I first noticed the incredible diversity in the sea of faces – Asian, black, white, brown, Caucasian, Latin…. and me, a newly international student. I had never in my life seen so many different sorts of people in one country; however, I thought this must have just been at the airport (only). Yet, after I left the airport, I continued to be fascinated by the incredible variety of faces that adorned the city I had just arrived in.

My second culture shock was more of a learning curve. I was both excited and nervous to attend college, but I remembered the sea of faces, and I thought surely all of the faces have names, dreams, aspirations. Surely, they too were once scared, but that is why they are here – to be a little more scared, a bit more shocked, and in the end, surprised at how they would learn and grow.

So, again, though afraid, I embraced the value of being culturally shocked. I turned my anxious worries into positive energy and attended my first day in an American college.

This is when my shock-and-a-half came. I was so used to attending school in Saudi Arabia, where I was always told that academics were incredibly challenging, and that if I were to enroll elsewhere, like the United States, I would automatically have better marks. But it soon became clear to me that the sea of faces I had previously seen did not necessarily speak a sea of languages. In fact, everyone, everywhere, was predominantly speaking fluent English – except me.

My additional shocks were a continuation of the same wave. I continued to be challenged by my schooling, as well as the way foreigners were viewed, especially Arabs. I continued to remind myself of the sea of faces, and I began putting names, dreams, and stories to these faces. Soon I realized that these people and I were one and the same. We may all have different backgrounds, speak different languages, but we are all people with hopes and challenges. This notion gave me the courage to continue my schooling and turn my uncertainty into learning experiences and milestones for growth.

Certainly, I failed and fell sometimes. But what is falling without getting back up? Failure adds value to experience and meaning to endeavors. Failure teaches us what is truly important. When the desire to succeed is greater than the fear of failure, it is but one of the layers that make up the depth of human experience. This I believe.

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