If you have been a constant reader of my blogs, then you know that I had a pretty interesting transition to the American culture; from communicating with my American friends, to shopping in America. However, what is more interesting is that I never thought my transition would be so smooth.
Just like all the others who were new in this country, I also faced cultural shock, language barriers, difficulty understanding the lectures and much more. But thanks to the International office at St. Ambrose University, this was the smoothest transition to a completely new place ever. It was even easier than the transition I had in India when I went there to study high school.
In this blog, I want to focus more on how it felt transitioning to American culture, I will discuss how I overcame the challenges I had in classes and outside of the classroom.
Without any further a due, let's get right on it:
Initial thoughts about America/American schools and American Culture
It's very interesting how my initial thoughts don’t match with my current thoughts at all. During my time in India I enjoyed the place so much that I never wanted to leave, but then I knew that it wasn’t time yet for me to stop from pursuing the things I have always wanted to experience (I mean why even stop when a whole opportunity presents itself to you).
When I was making the decision to come to America there were a lot of things that were affecting my decision. They were mainly based on what I heard from the news, families that already lived there, or simply the internet. I was scared to travel by myself to a place where everything and everyone was strange, totally different than what I had seen in Somalia and India. I asked myself a lot “am I going to be okay”, “is it really worth it?”.
Then my brother encouraged me in a way that no one ever could, he explained the importance of overcoming your fears over something that you haven’t seen with your own eyes. So, I made the decision to come to America.
I thought, given my background, my religion and my own skin color, it would be extremely hard to survive- but then it was a completely different case. None of what I thought mattered, people here in the Midwest never seemed to care about my background, they were so welcoming that I started accepting their culture as one of mine.
How long did it take me to make this transition, you ask? I will answer that in just a little bit.
Transitioning to America
Here I say America because it includes everything from language barriers to cultural barriers. Without the language, it’s hard to transition, so you have to understand American life before you can transition from your culture to American. I think the hardest of all for me was not getting used to American do’s and don’ts.
The language- English- wasn’t the first language in every place I had been to before coming to America. In fact, in Somalia, schools were taught in Arabic until 6th grade and then you smoothly transition to English during medium schools.
I have done a lot of “transitioning” in my life and so far America has felt like the simplest and easiest. Going back to the language barrier, my accent was thick and people had a hard time understanding me and I felt like people here spoke faster than a bullet (I mean, I’ve always been a slow speaker so you can understand how it feels when you meet people that speak a lot- I mean a lot- faster than you).
To familiarize myself with fast-paced speaking, customs in America, and everything I wanted to learn about America, I started watching more American movies and TV Shows, started making a lot of American friends, and attending a lot of American events. The TV show “Friends” was my favorite until today, I think I have watched that show over 16 times and I can still restart and finish it without getting bored. These movies and TV shows didn’t only improve my English language speaking skills, they also made me aware of different things Americans do that we don’t do back home. For example; back home people are never on time and in America I have learnt the importance of it.
In addition to these movies and TV shows, the International office here at St. Ambrose University has been a huge contribution to my transition, especially Catherine Toohey (the International Student Adviser at SAU). She wasn’t just an adviser to me or to any other international student, she became the “MOM” to every International student at St. Ambrose. Catherine and the whole office did more than I expected, they made sure I felt at home here. I never thought I would find a second home, but the international community was so bonded together that anyone would find a home here. From just minor things like receiving an email to asking how I was doing to helping me participate in different cultural events, everything made me feel how important I was to them and how happy they were to have me here. The moment people knew I was an international student, they explained some American traditions like Groundhog Day (I still don’t get how a groundhog seeing its shadow can tell whether spring will arrive early or not), and I have learnt a lot of American traditions and have shared a lot of mine as well.
My transition to America was very smooth; I met the friendliest people, found an office that made sure St. Ambrose felt like home, watched TV shows that taught me a lot about American culture, and learned from professors that were so passionate about helping their student. Soon after I got used to the place, I decided to give back by becoming the International Student Ambassador on campus. This allowed me to be able to help give other people a smooth transition, just like I did. It helped me understand the importance of making others feel that they have someone they can rely on; they have someone that is there to help them in every step during their time in America.
As happy as I am to be graduating soon, I also feel bad that I won’t be there for the new students that will start a journey at Ambrose in the Fall of 2020. Helping new International students has become part of who I am. That being said, I wouldn’t have been able to help them if it wasn’t for the International office, and I am confident that every single student will have a much smoother transition once they get to St. Ambrose University, because there is a feel of home here.
Now talking about how long it took to transition to the American culture. I really don’t know because it happened almost instantly and so quickly, but I do know that everything takes time and the more comfortable everyday gets, the easier it is to transition. So, having a mindset to experience new things and an eagerness to share my culture, as well as learn a new one in different events, is what it took to make my transition here smoother.
Aweys Ahmed Aweys of Somalia, is studying Finance and Marketing at St.Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.