DSU’s international students share views of St. George’s cultural differences

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The U.S. is a diverse place, but coming from foreign countries to rural Utah is a social adventure for some international Dixie State University students. 

International students have the same anxieties and struggles as national students about social worries, correlating class and finding a path in life. However, being in a new culture comes with social surprises, economic challenges and maybe even appreciation for new cultures.  

DSU’s international student program currently has 182 students from 20 different countries. Most of Dixie’s international students come from countries in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa, including Saudi Arabia, Russia, Germany, Brazil and South Africa. Students come to DSU to experience American culture, study English and graduate.

With such a large mix of cultures, differences arise in many ways. One manifests in relationships for some international students. 

“At home we greet each other with hugging and kissing on the cheek,” said Christan Marin, a freshman general education major from Bogota, Colombia. “Here they do not.” 

For some Asian students, hugging and personal affection is a surprise to them.

“Friends hug here; we don’t hug our friends [in China], ” said Yun Gu, a freshman general education major from Shanghai, China.

To some international students, it is not only strange to receive hugs from friends, but also from almost anyone.

“At home I barely get hugs from my parents,” said Carl Gao, a freshman general education major from Kunming, China.

Personal affection perceptions may vary depending on where students are from, but they all tend to agree about how welcoming and supportive the people in St. George have been to them. 

“Here they say ‘Hi in the street; at home they just walk past,” said William Gu, a freshman general education major from Shanghai, China.

Even though differences exists, some international students find warmth and openness in their transition to Southern Utah life.

“One of the reasons why I work here and live in St George is because the people here are so welcoming,” said Michael Thompson, director of international student services. “Not only do we promote St. George as one of the top safest places in the US, but also as one of the most welcoming.”

International students often say they have found St. George to be a comfortable place.

“People here are so open compared to [people in] Germany,” said Janna Szamecki, a freshman elementary education from Hamburg, Germany. “They invite you to do stuff [here]. In Germany, people are more to themselves and it takes a while to get to know them.”

Dixie has about an 80/20 overall success rate with the adjustment of international students here, Thompson said.

“People open their homes to the students, they open the cars, they give them rides, and they help them out,” Thompson said. “We are more home-townish [than other places], and I think that makes a big difference in why students like it here.”  

Some students have felt support from people at Dixie in fulfilling their goals and ambitions as well.

“If you make a mistake [here], they say, ‘Go ahead; everything is going to be better,” said Ellan Shchelochek, a sophomore English major from Zaporizhia, Ukraine. 

International students have felt reception from not only the international student services department, but also from other administration on campus.

“At home (advisers) tell you what to dokati like you are their child,” said Jane Olaleye, a freshman general education major from Lagos, Nigeria. “Here they give you [options], like you are some stranger. It is more formal here; I like it.”

Thompson sees the acceptance and support of the campus staff and community as a huge attribution to the international students’ success.

Thompson said it’s often a big adjustment for international students to come to DSU, as most of them have never been to the U.S. before, and the culture shock some experience at first can be rather intense.

Toussi Ba, a senior communication major from Bamako, Mali, said even though moving to the U.S. is often a huge cultural adjustment, the rewards of experiencing a new cultural can be worthwhile.

“People are different in each country,” Mali said. “If you stick in one place, you only learn that place except for what you learn from the media, which is not relevant all the time. To travel is a great advantage.”

Ba said she thinks all people should travel and experience different cultures.

“Although it is hard, it is one of the greatest [experiences] to get,” Ba said. “It is such an amazing experience to go to a different country and experience the culture and how people interact and everything. It makes you a better person.”