I Am International

“My two other American roommates and myself would never consider ourselves very American. When people ask us, we would always say, ‘We are international.'”

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Transcript for I Am International

I was a junior transfer, and my roommate was from Germany. So I was immediately thrown into a diverse culture. The entire floor of my dorm was filled with international students. So being able to just walk down the hall and not only have a German roommate, but have Japanese, French, pretty much all over on our floor, and it was an amazing experience.

The language barrier between my roommate and I really wasn’t a very big issue. I was very willing to help her with learning different words and she would when we would be studying back to back with each other she would turn around and be like, “Erin, Erin, what’s the word for that one thing that you do, the thingy…”

And I’d have to be like, “Uh, pencil?” So I would be able to help her out with things like that.

But there were also difficulties, I remember. My best friend now she’s from Japan, and when I first met her she was trying to tell me about Chicago. Her accent was so strong, and I was not used to anything like that. So she said Chicago I think about twenty times before I was finally just like, “Okay, so anyways.” Like I had no idea what she was talking about. Still to this day she and I joke about that all the time.

The language barrier can be very difficult, but I think if you’re willing to work with people and to take the time to help them and be like “Okay, just slow down and describe what you’re trying to say.” Then you can kind of help them figure out what exactly they are looking for.

Personal interactions between the cultures when I first came here was pretty prevalent. As I said, I lived in the dorm room with many international students, and it was very common for the international students to greet each other by kissing on the cheek either one side, or both sides, or sometimes one-one and then back. And I had never seen this in real life, maybe in the movies. You do that with your family here in America. Usually you don’t kiss your friend on the cheek when you greet them or you usually don’t kiss somebody you don’t know on the cheek when you greet them. So that was a very interesting cultural experience for me, and it was something that I actually adopted because after about a semester of seeing my friends do that I became adjusted to it. And now I find myself going back to Grand Rapids and I’ll greet my friends by kissing them on the cheek. And they’ll be like, “Uhhh, hi.”

So, it’s something that I took away from the culture by living with them and being incorporated in it. And it’s something that I find myself doing now, but you have cultures where touching is not appropriate. For instance, in some of the Muslim countries a man and a woman shouldn’t be touching. So I came into different instances where I would extend my hand in a handshake when I was greeting someone, and they would kind of take a step back and look at me and look at their friend and be like, “Why is her hand there? I can’t shake it.” And so I’ll have to understand okay his taking a step back meant that he’s not comfortable touching someone of the opposite sex, and so in that case you just have to smile and say hi.

And actually last year, I had lived in an apartment that was off campus and there was four of us living together. One girl was from Kazakhstan. Another girl was from a small town in Indiana. We would call it an Amish town, and she actually studied abroad in Mexico for one year so we would also call her Mexican. My other roommate was from Michigan but she had studied abroad in France for a semester. All four of us felt very international, and we would always have all the international students over to our house to join us.

It’s amazing how American people can become international. My two other American roommates and myself would never consider ourselves really American. When people ask us, we would always say, “We are international.” Because even though we are from this country. We see ourselves as being travelers, as being culturally diverse, as being understanding of other cultures, and that’s what makes you international.