The University of New Brunswick hosts over 800 international students every year, from countries all around the world. While culture shock does exist, it might not be caused by what Canadian students would consider to be the usual suspects.
The Brunswickan reached out to a few of UNB’s international students and discovered that while the nature of culture shock can include differences in population density and the colder weather—something many students aren’t acclimated to—communication and relations with Canadian-born students is a big factor in helping everyone to feel more welcome.
In the view of domestic students, Fredericton’s relatively small population and cold winters might be the more obvious culprits in cases of culture shock among international students. Jay Yang, who is currently an MBA student, came to UNB in 2012 from China, notices these differences—but more so when he goes back home. He says he knew that Fredericton would be a nice and quiet place to live after a friend of his taught here and spoke to him about the city.
While China does have snow during the winter, Yang says that the biggest culture shock for him was the length of our winters, with the snowfall itself being fairly heavy. However, he says that he ends up experiencing a bit of reverse culture shock when he returns to his home city in China, a city of 1.5 million, approximately double the population of the entire province of New Brunswick.
“Every time I go back I kind of feel a reverse shock—when I immediately get back, you see all the traffic and all the people around. Here, you’re used to quietness and sometimes [when] you walk in the street you don’t see that many people, but in China you see people everywhere,” says Yang.
But for many international students, it is not always the big changes such as weather, cuisine and population size, but the little things that are the hardest to adjust to.
Andrea Cardenas, a student from Honduras who came here in 2016, became interested in attending UNB when a recruiter went to her high school. She found the culture shock was not necessarily the big differences.
“I think the biggest culture shock is not the bigger things, it’s the little things, like little expressions or ways to talk and things like that. I think those little things is what really gets you that you’re in a different place,” says Cardenas.
“At least in my case, culture shock was something that I knew I was going to have to deal with so I was sort of prepared for that, but I wasn’t prepared for not knowing what a ‘devil’s advocate’ was.”
Some of the other adjustments that Cardenas mentioned, are not so different from the adjustments that Canadian students have to make when they leave home for the first time, such as “not being used to doing my own laundry and not knowing how to shut the dryer machine properly.”
Missing family and friends is another reality shared by domestic and international students alike.
“I remember during my first year there was this one night I was particularly homesick, and I called my mom and I talked to her for about two hours about all the foods I missed,” says Cardenas.
However, while there are shared experiences among all of UNB’s students, some international students said that domestic students don’t often realize that they aren’t so different.
Uwera Ntaganzwa, who came to UNB in 2016 from Rwanda, is one such student. She said that sometimes people may assume they will not be able to relate to someone from a different country.
“I think people assume that if you’re from a different place, everything must be different. Some people make an assumption that they may not be able to relate to you, so they don’t even make the effort to do it,” says Ntaganzwa.
She says that some have expressed surprise that she speaks English, and that they may have watched similar things in their respective childhoods. However, she says this has not been her only experience.
“There are also people who are very open and good to learn about other places or other things. They wonder like if you have the same food or they want to know how it looks like, and you’re just able to talk to [them] because they want to know more about where you’re from and they’re not just distancing themselves because they assume they’re not going to be able to relate to you or you won’t be able to relate to them,” says Ntaganzwa.
This sometimes makes it difficult for international students to make friends with domestic students. Such was the case of Abdelrahman Aldik, a PhD student from Palestine who came to UNB in 2016.
“I chose Canada because there is always a chance in Canada to establish some kind of a new life. It is one of the rare welcoming countries these days for somebody who’s interested in having—maybe, if he wants to—he can establish some kind of new life and contribute to a new society,” Aldik said.
“Nowadays it’s very rare to find a country who offers such an opportunity for people who are coming from elsewhere.”
He did not experience the typical culture shock, as he found he was exposed to a great deal of Western culture in Europe. However, he says that coming as a graduate student who did not know anybody, he found challenges in making friends, meeting people and being able to get involved in the community.
Aldik believes the responsibility to be meeting with international students is not necessarily on the students, but rather the university’s, by advertising mingling events for students from both Canada and away, but also by bringing more international students to the university.
“They need to provide all incentives for international students to come here and consider UNB because actually, it’s a win win situation. UNB is not a very big university and it’s not that well known outside [of Canada],” says Aldik.
While domestic students might guess incorrectly that the weather is the main cause of culture shock, Saira Maharaj, a student from Trinidad, says that it is a good way to start a conversation with other students.
She found the new climate was a good conversation starter with those who rightfully assumed she was from the tropics—though Maharaj says that many students did not know where Trinidad and Tobago was, or that her first language was actually English.
Maharaj says that while in Canada, she has gotten to know other international students, but she also wanted to see the life of a Canadian student as well. While she notes that the international office is very active, the international events at the university did not always provide that opportunity.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been to most, but those international events, they don’t allow the interaction between international students and Canadian students. To all that I have been to, it’s usually the same group of people because they’re all international students,” says Maharaj.
In other words domestic students shouldn’t be afraid of reaching out to those new to Fredericton. For the most part, there are experiences shared between all cultures, and these will provide a basis from which to learn the differences. According to Cardenas, keeping an open mind is the best way to learn about different experiences and cultures. In fact, she says she embraces the things that make her different.
“I think the main thing for me was accepting that I was a different person and instead of trying to like change my differences to become more Canadian, that I should embrace it and just be different and love being different,” says Cardenas.
She also says that our differences do not define us as individuals, because while she is an international student, she’s also treasurer of her residence, a math student and a friend. She says that everyone should try to meet more people and get to know them, whether they are from Canada or not.
“I think you shouldn’t make a specific effort to meet more international students, but to just meet more people because that’s what we are, we’re just people, right?”
Photos: Book Sadprasid