International students learn more than a book can teach

My name is Naw Assumpta. I am currently majoring in general studies and am planning to transfer to Ball State University next spring to pursue my degree in architecture. I also work in the Marketing and Communications office, so I get to write these fun blogs.

Assumpta Titan
Naw Assumpta, General Studies student and Marketing work study

I have been in the United States for five years after leaving my home country of Burma. I am still learning and adjusting to the differences in the two cultures.  Whenever I learn something new, I am amazed at how living in a foreign country can be challenging. It has made me more open-minded and accepting because I am learning, understanding, and navigating the culture of a different country.

I thought I would share some of the everyday shocks I’ve experienced.

Let’s start with the most important difference — food!

I grew up in a really small town in Burma. Most of my family are farmers, so most of our food came right out of our farm including rice, vegetables, and fish. Our snacks were sugarcane, mangoes, and plums. We rarely ate meat because it was so expensive.

When I first came to the United States, I was overwhelmed by the number of fast food restaurants. Like one every block or so. And they are affordable!

On my first day in the United States, my parents and I decided to go to a Thai restaurant for lunch. Each of us ordered pineapple fried rice and Tom Yum soup. I was surprised to see how big the portion of the meal was. The size of the meal was twice as big as the portions I ate back home.

School daze

Typical Burmese school uniforms: “htamein” for the girls and “paso” for the boys.

Another culture shock I experienced was when I started as a freshman, and I was surprised how public schools do not require students to wear a uniform. I learned that kids are free to wear whatever they want as long as it’s appropriate. In Burma, school uniforms are mandatory throughout public schools from kindergarten to 10th grade. The compulsory uniform for a boy is a white shirt and green sarong, also known as paso. Girls wear a white traditional Burmese blouse and a green sarong called htamein.

I was also surprised by how the higher education system works here in the United States compared to Burma. In Burma students choose their major based upon their university entrance exam scores they take at the end of senior year. Students are not allowed to choose their area of study. In fact, the government assigns their courses regardless of whether or not they have an interest in the subject. Students who make it to university will also have to pay high fees, and there is no such a thing as FAFSA or financial aid. I was so excited to know that here in the U.S. I could really study my passion, architecture.

In the classroom, I was also surprised by the teacher/student relationship. In Burma, students are to obey the teachers. They are not allowed to speak freely, to write freely, or to publish freely. Here, students are very active, and they are allowed to express their opinions.

Is it just me?

As I was writing this, I started to wonder if I was the only one who wasn’t really prepared for the differences between American culture and my home culture. So I asked other Ivy Tech students from different countries about their cultural experiences in the United States. Here’s what they have to say:

Thandar Knine
Thandar Khine, Business Administration student

“The biggest culture shock I experienced was not knowing how to address the professors and teachers here. I find it odd and weird to call the professors and teachers by their first name or even their last name because back in my country, calling teachers by their names is considered rude. We address them by calling ‘Teacher’ to give them respect for educating us. It took a while for me to get used to this when I came here for college”
Thandar Khine, Burma

Chit Ko, Computer Science student

“My first moment of culture shock in the United States was making eye contact with people. In our culture, making direct eye contact is a show of disrespect, especially toward elderly people. In the United States, making eye contact shows that you are paying attention, showing interest, and is also a sign of self-confidence. I was not used to the culture and hesitated every time I made eye contact with people”
Chit Ko, Burma

Khalid Ali
Khalid Ali, Database Management & Administration student

“A lot of people questioned my marital status when I first came here. They asked whether I am single or married. Right after I told them that I am single, they followed up by asking whether I have any kids. I was really shocked by this question, because having children without marriage is unacceptable in my country. I later learned that in the United States, it is legal to have children without getting married. From this experience, I learned that things that are acceptable in a country, could be a culture shock to other countries.”
Khalid Ali, Sudan

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