August 22. My first day as a college student in America. I entered my dorm room.
Dorm room, now that sounds nice. My roommate had yet to make an appearance, and I got to make the first choices. While cleaning up and putting everything in place I thought of how she was going to be; maybe she would not like my music, or my complete lack of putting things in order. Not knowing anybody and having only heard rumors about the state was pretty scary. I had only spoken with my roommate three times on the phone before coming here, and she was the only person I knew. During orientation, my parents were still in East Lansing, so it did not feel as lonely knowing that they were just a few blocks away. After they left I began to notice little things like many people came to MSU with their best friend or sweetheart, some even came with a bunch of friends or family, no matter how far away their home state. A couple of weeks past and I started to feel alone. My roommate had some friends with whom she studied or had worked with and I got to know them somewhat, but it was still difficult. WHERE IS INGRID FROM?
A big obstacle to overcome while in a new country or state, where you do not know anybody or cannot really speak the language, is getting to know people; and after having heard about all the stereotypes of cultures it makes it even harder for a person to adapt. Sung Hee Park, a tourism graduate student originally from Korea, told me that when she arrived to MSU it was very hard for her to make friends. Park has found students in MSU to be very conservative. She said that “people are more serious and never say hi,” giving her the impression that nobody cares about one another. “I lived in L.A. for a year; people are more happy [there], more active,” Park said.
Not only do out-of-state and international students have a stereotypical idea planted when they come to MSU, but Michigan residents do also. For Ileana Cortez, an interdisciplinary studies and community relations senior, the idea of stereotypes was all but unfamiliar. “Everybody thinks all Asian students are smart and people try to stay away from other with head wraps because of the terrorism incidents,” Cortez said. She also sees international students as privileged “since they must have the means to come study in the United States.”
“[Stereotypes] come from television and media in general,” Cortez said. These stereotypes result in the segregation of students; Cortez, a Michigan resident, said that “whatever friends people have will change their perception; people in Michigan are very segregated.” Oftentimes, people simply divide themselves into groups they feel more comfortable in, rather than being uncomfortable with other cultures. “People segregate themselves; they choose who to be with,” Lei Sung, a pre-med freshman from Michigan, said.
Stereotypes have probably erupted from the differences between students from different cultures. Park encountered for the first time someone who challenged her ideas and involved her in an argument. “People have totally different opinions here,” Park said about students at MSU. “The first time I disagreed with someone I felt I was being rude, I learned how to accept the different points of view.” Back in Korea, she learned from an early age that she should keep quiet when she did not agree with an opinion. At MSU she has had to grasp the concept of speaking her mind in public. Students at MSU have changed her personality. “Learning to speak my own opinion in public has made people in my home town think I’m getting rude,” Park said.
Stereotypes between cultures are not the only reason why students have a hard time adjusting. Some students like Ohnes find it difficult to be away from their families. Even though he is from a suburban area and finds MSU similar, he said, “I miss being apart from family and the environment is different.” Michigan’s changing weather is another big factor among students. “The weather is cold,” Park said. She believes that as the weather changes, people change with it, and that is when she feels more comfortable. “As the weather is getting better people are getting better,” she said.
As there are things that make the students uncomfortable, there are activities, different clubs and organizations that are meant to the benefit of students. Students like Ohnes find that the orientation week with all its activities is very helpful. Others like Park went farther out to look for friends; she joined a Korean Church and met some people there, also she started taking classes from other departments and joined study groups. There are also more than 550 registered student organizations like COMmunity Journalism Student organization; the Arab Cultural Society, which is dedicated to representing Arab students in the student government; the Greek community; the Multi-Racial Unity Living Experience, a residential living experience where students from different cultures live together; as well as the RHA and different residential programs that are dedicated to help make the college transition easier.
During the classes I began talking to people, or they began talking to me. I am still searching for some things to do, since I have noticed that social opportunities do not just appear out of thin air. It is all a matter of getting the leg up and looking for different clubs, organizations and groups, or talking to random people in the building. It is also hard, though, when you realize that your friends are not in the same state that you are; if I am bored or want to go somewhere my friends cannot just show up. These are things I had to realize and get over in order to focus on my studies and try to make a life over here. Even though I miss my family and friends, and the thought of having to start my own life all by myself is scary, this has been a great experience and I am glad I took the risk. Life is all about risks and you just have to throw yourself in no matter what.

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