Culture Shock Therapy panel shares international experience


As part of International Education Week, the Office for International and Advanced Studies organized a Culture Shock Therapy discussion panel.

The panel took place on Thursday, Nov. 9, and gave international students a venue to share their thoughts on experiencing new cultures through education. The panel was moderated by international student advisor Adem Althor.

“International Education Week is celebrated widely by universities around the world,” Althor said. “We continue to celebrate because of our belief in the value of international education.”

During the Culture Shock Therapy discussion, a panel of students, faculty and staff spoke about the challenges they faced when living in a foreign country and the lessons they learned.

Sociology professor Warren Fincher discussed the difficulties of traveling in India.

“It was a rough adjustment,” Fincher said. “If anyone has traveled to South Asia, they know that little things are so different and sometimes just really frustrating. They drive on the other side of the road, which is fine because I don’t drive when I’m in India. But they also walk on the other side of the sidewalk … So I keep hitting people head-on when I go to India.”

Management professor Isabella Szymanska felt similar frustrations while living and working in Poland, Germany and the United Sates.

“People will not explain things to you clearly,” Szymanska said. “I think the worst part is when you don’t know because you have your own way of thinking and your own values, but here, the values are different.”

The difficulties each panel member faced provided them with learning opportunities.

“I think that one of the biggest lessons that I learned going through cultural shock was that a lot of things are different,” said Sandra Lamarche, a domestic student major born in the Dominican Republic.
“Different does not have to have a bad connotation. … At the end of the day, you’re coming to the same goal, so it’s a moment for you to take a step back and try to think about why people do certain things. This is a moment for me to learn something new.”

Abdulrahman Zaiter, an international student who was born in Kuwait and is a Syrian citizen, also touched on what he learned in America.

“I came to the realization that acceptance of the culture is very important, because there is nothing right or wrong,” Zaiter said. “It all depends on the society’s perspective. Some people might say you are now Americanized and I’ll say, ‘no.’ I just got a new experience. I learned something about a new culture and I experienced something new.”

International student Phuong “Eli” Dinh, who was born in Vietnam, further emphasized that being open-minded gives travelers a more positive experience.

“Altogether, I think it comes down to how open you are to accepting what other people think is right while not losing what you believe in,” Dinh said. “Then, you can have a really fun experience.”

Attending the panel made third-year criminal justice major Melanie Ross excited for her own study abroad experience in India.

“I learned that studying abroad can be challenging and exciting,” Ross said. “It’s interesting to see that people experience many of the same things when they go abroad, and this discussion has made me more excited to do my own study abroad.”

Althor believes that traveling abroad helps students learn about themselves and expand their existing knowledge.

“I think students saw how international travel and living abroad can broaden their perspective of the world and, in some cases, dramatically alter the trajectory of their life,” Althor said. “That was my experience. I came home with newfound passions and a much deeper understanding about what the world is like. That experience ultimately led me to the Office of International and Advanced Studies at SVSU.”