‘Cultural shock’ can be a challenge for international students

But with help and perseverance, new arrivals are finding a new 'home' in Sarnia

Pictured are just a few of the many international students at Lambton College. From left are Kunal Surwade, Amandeep Kaur, Hyunseuk Hwang, Lucy, and Obinna Ogbozor.

The complex nature of culture, especially the dealing with different beliefs, laws and customs, vary based on the social environment people find themselves.

For at least some students attending Lambton College, notably those who arrive in Canada from other countries, there can be a kind “cultural shock” involved.

International students from Asia, Africa and South America may be particularly susceptible, although at Lambton College, countries such as India, Nigeria and South Korea tend to dominate.

Commonly defined, cultural shock is a disorienting experience that can occur to almost anyone coming from a country where any manner of lifestyle differences may be in play. It is a phenomenon that is one of the major challenges faced by international students at Lambton College.

In January, the peak of winter for Sarnia and area, a group of international students began their studies at Lambton College.

For Grace Amanyi, who is from Nigeria, having a return ticket to her home country became one of her biggest wishes. She says being “completely disoriented” by what was for her extreme cold weather was part of the shock.

Having been accustomed to the hot temperature of about 29 to 31 degree Celsius in Nigeria, she says she felt depressed and out of tune after she arrived in Sarnia. All she could think about was Nigeria, the warm weather, and homemade food as she spent about one month feeding on fries, burger and soft drinks.

The six hour time difference in time zones didn’t make that transition any easier, since it restricted communication in a practical sense with family and friends who might have been a source of consolation to Amanyi.

The challenges, she admits, were among the hardest moments she had ever experienced. However, she says today that that has changed. “I look back at those moments, and I smile joyfully how those experiences have taught me steadfastness in overcoming challenges.” She is pleased and excited with the progress she has made so far.

Niharika Bushal, who is from India, was also taken aback with what she experienced on her arrival to Canada. While her experience was similar to that of Grace Amanyi, one of the strangest parts for her was seeing some of her core values been challenged, one of which was the custom of some in Canada calling older people by their names instead of addressing them as Sir or Madam.

She says that was not easy to adopt, but she was left with no option. “Today, I am happy with how culturally diversified I have become having met people from different nationalities.”

A third international student is Hyunseuk Hwang, a South Korean who found, perhaps not surprisingly, language to be his biggest source of cultural shock.

He said he “almost went dumb” at some points, preferring to use “sign language” rather than risk experimenting with the language and stuttering.

For him, the seeming “disconnect” of pretending to be happy was also a sort of dissonance.

“Why should I smile to people when nothing is making me happy?”

Today, though, he sees a smile as a sort of social tool, a non-verbal way of communication.

What is keeping him strong and willing to stay in Canada is his desire and passion to learn the English language.

Without that drive, he said there were thoughts about returning to South Korea, but those thoughts—and the desire to continue his drive to learn English, were the main reason for coming to Canada in the first place. Recalling that kept him focused.

There is no question that experiencing cultural shock could be seen as normal for anyone that moves to a different culture, but often times people find these challenges too difficult to contend with.

As a result, the International Department of Lambton College has created an important course to be taught which helps to reorient international students about culture in Canada. This has been of immense help to every international students to gradually integrate into the Canadian culture.

Lambton College is also collaborating with the Sarnia community, which is offering assistance to international students, especially those struggling to adapt to the Canadian culture.

Whether it is providing the tangible help needed, or even words of encouragement to a struggling student, there are opportunities for volunteering in the community and organizing social gathering that helps to break the barriers of diversity.

One example is providing “warm weather” students with the winter jackets, duvets and other seasonal items to international students.

Numerous other initiatives have also helped, among them a Global Summit event organized by the College, where issues about cultures and barriers were discussed also helped rekindle the spirit of the students; women empowerment programs; students’ night social gathering; opportunities to watch live hockey games; watching a tournament of basketball games put on by Ontario Colleges, and even volunteer opportunities in the community.

All these efforts and supports by the International Office Department of the Lambton College help with the process of integrating students and making them feel like they are part of a new cultural experience.

Still, efforts aside, students new to the country can be reminded that they are not alone in experiencing the “cultural shock” that is an acknowledged part of this new student life.

The fact is that every international students who has been here before has undergone such cultural shock and came out stronger and better. It is a greater motivating factor for every international students not to allow the shock to steal away their hopes and dreams.

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