Shadrach Nyeko, BJU Seminary Student
Before going to the States for the first time in 2013, I had a lot of expectations that may not have been very accurate. For example, the picture I had in mind concerning the entire United States was that of New York City—skyscrapers everywhere and busy streets full of people! But when I got off the plane in Memphis, Tennessee, I knew that I was wrong. For me, and probably for most new international students, coming to the States was extremely exciting. But that excitement is not without some measure of anxiety and fear of the unknown. So, what should you expect as an incoming international student? And how can you engage the American culture in such a way as to impact and be impacted for the glory of Christ?
Expect some cultural differences.
As you interact and observe American life and culture, expect that some things are going to be different from your own culture; and that is okay. The food is going to taste a little different. I had to get used to eating cheese in almost every food. Expect to be a little bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options at any given restaurant. Let a friend help you. The American idea of personal space might be surprising. As a general rule, Americans expect a lot more personal space and label more stuff as personal. So, the best thing to do is to always ask before using an item that does not belong to you. Time management might be stricter. No need to get discouraged by these differences. Embrace what is required of you.
Interact with people.
Don’t isolate yourself. It is very easy to take the easy way out and stand aloof, uninvolved, and unconcerned. But the benefits to that approach are few as compared to engaging and interacting with people—all kinds of people. Perhaps you have found a friend with whom you share a common culture. The tendency is to hang out with only that friend to the exclusion of anybody else. Isolating yourself, whether individually or in a closed group of your comfort, will prove to be detrimental in the long run, and it will not give you the opportunity to maximumly impact the people God has put around you, or to grow to your full potential in all aspects of life.
Learn by observation.
When you interact with people around you—whether its in class, in the dorms, during co-curricular activities like sports and music, in restaurants, or in church—, you get the opportunity to observe what the norms are. As a result, you don’t feel out of place after a while. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also, in most cases, you can google words, phrases, or idiomatic sayings that you don’t understand. Sometimes people speak with movie references, so if it sounds appropriate, you can google those for the context too. Be careful, however, not to copy everything you see or hear. Use your common sense and Biblical convictions to sort through the things you observe.
Focus on your academic task.
It is easy to become so busy with the numerous activities on and off campus and, consequently, devote less time to academics. This can be detrimental because as a student, your first priority is your studies. You are fully responsible for getting all your work done within the given deadlines. This means that you will have to pick and choose what you can and cannot do. I personally felt pressed for time playing for the collegiate soccer team, coupled with ministry class and church-related responsibilities. In hindsight, however, I feel like that experience prepared me well for my incredibly busy life right now (planting a church and trying to make progress on a PhD). You will have to plan well for your time, not neglecting time for rest and time for prayer.
Recognize your Christian responsibility.
Wherever you are, as long as you are a believer, you possess the privilege and responsibility to continue growing spiritually and to help others to do the same. You are still responsible for making disciples even when you have assignments pending. This means that you cannot afford to just find a comfortable pace and coast your way through. Survival is not the end game. Attempt to make an impact for Christ by living out an exemplary Christian testimony. Find a local church and commit yourself to doing any work of the ministry that is available. Reach out and be a blessing to someone. The rewards will not be insignificant.
In the end, all people are just people. There is no need to get caught up in the cultural differences. God’s grace is ever-present and sufficient to enable you to thrive even as an international student. Remember to enjoy your time in college—make friends, laugh, do fun things (that are acceptable). Consider your time at BJU to be a gift from God!
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.