International students can benefit from staying true to themselves at UT

Chen-Pang Chang

“Wine marriage party is taking place this Friday night.” When the announcement was made in a weekly meeting at the 21st Street Co-op, everyone except me was excited.

In Taiwan, going to parties isn’t common for college students. Getting drunk and hyped up with a bunch of strangers is not considered a good way to spend a Friday night. After having tried it a few times, I still agree.

It is true that international students should be open to trying new things in their new environment. After all, that is one of the reasons to study abroad. However, international students can also benefit from staying true to themselves once they have tried branching out.

There are many cultural differences an international student can embrace at UT. Sports, for example, are popular activities in the U.S. Some, such as football and baseball, are exclusively American. For some students, sports are a new experience they have yet to understand, which can lead to isolation.

“I feel excluded when I see people going to the stadium,” said Jane Li, an accounting sophomore from China. “We don’t have football game(s) back home.”

These differences can cause culture shock and make it difficult for international students to reach out to local students. Because of this, being abroad can lead to stress, isolation and homesickness. In cases such as these, knowing yourself and staying true to yourself is beneficial.

According to sociology professor Mehdi Haghshenas, some studies indicate that international students, with some exceptions, tend to be more engaged in high levels of learning and educational activities in their first year of college. Later, during their senior year, they become more compatible and converge with American students in social, nonacademic settings.

In the face of new cultural experiences, international students can first be open to trying new things. Go to a sports game, and do things unique to the U.S. Then, if you don’t feel like doing it again, it is fine to stay away from it. This habit of staying true to oneself in a new environment can be beneficial for international students who know what is best for their well-being.

For instance, some international students may choose to have an English name as their preferred name because their original name is too hard for others to pronounce or memorize. As an Asian student on campus, Chen-Pang is always problematic when introducing myself to others. Finally, I just gave up trying and now use my English name, Bundy, instead. However, Bundy is equally difficult to memorize and as rare of a name. 

International students should not feel like they can’t use their traditional name. If anything, staying true to their name and identity will make them more comfortable and introduce local students to diversity.

According to Haghshenas, international students can and should enjoy aspects of American culture. However, their own values, religions, food and other cultural norms set them apart. They can still hold on to their own identity in the world of the dominant culture, Haghshenas said. 

International students represent 10 percent of the UT population, which forms a large minority at the University. UT culture is becoming more diverse, and international students contribute to this diversity. While international students should stay open-minded in the process of interacting with a new culture, they should also stay true to themselves and embrace their diversity. 

Chang is a philosophy junior from New Taipei, Taiwan.