As a student, one is supposed to learn as much as possible, take care of one’s GPA, and have fun with friends; that is what college is about, isn’t it? However, apart from the educational process involved, studying abroad is also a process of adaptation. An international student will learn how to strengthen the necessary abilities to build a good professional profile and to adapt to the host country’s culture.
The United States is a country full of diversity. It doesn’t matter where you are from, or what your beliefs, traditions or ideas are, you will always find a group of people that has the same culture as you. However, there are some things that set the U.S. apart from other countries, and you will simply have to adapt and learn how to deal with them. One good example of that is the U.S. measurement systems.
It is interesting how almost all the rest of the world has changed and standardized their measurement systems, but the United States has not. My first encounter with a different measurement system was during my first week in this country. I wanted to go cycling in order to get to know the city I am currently living in, so I grabbed what was my new bike, set Google Maps to a coffee shop that was 2 miles away (I knew that it was a little more than 3 kilometers), and started pedaling. A couple of minutes after my departure, the lady on Google Maps said, “In two hundred feet, turn right.” I had never dealt with foot measures before. I was not looking at the map, I just had my headphones on; and, as I was in the middle of the street, my only option was to try to imagine how foot converts into meters. ”200 meters are about two blocks, so it might be something similar,” I thought. 5 seconds after the lady said “recalculating,” so I realized that my approach wasn’t accurate enough. Honestly, I never thought that one measurement unit that is commonly used in one of the most powerful countries in the world is based on shoe size. It is also used in Canada and the UK, by the way.
The foot is part of the Imperial Unit System. This one includes inches, feet, yards, and miles (and others that are less-used) in order to express lengths. After a couple of months in this country, one gets to embrace this measurement system. I don’t use it on a daily basis, but I understand and picture them at least. One of my teachers once told me to deliver a report on 8.5” by 14” sized paper. I said “okay,” but I think he saw my “I have no idea what you are talking about” face. He then showed me a Tabloid sheet of paper just to clarify. I just thanked him.
Another instance is the Fahrenheit temperature scale. I was with a friend who told me “during winter the weather hits about 10 degrees…” Celsius, I intuited. I thought that it was not that bad, “It doesn’t even hit the negatives,” I said. When winter came, I realized that I had totally misunderstood.
It’s interesting to see the differences in how people express the same ideas in diverse terms. It’s almost like learning another language. In my country, we keep it metric, but I find it challenging and fun at the same time to try to use diverse systems to make sense of what I already know.
Jefferson Phillips from Costa Rica is studying computer science at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada.