THRIVING IN THE USA: Tips for African Students (pt. 2)

Hello, my international friends! I hope you’re well and thriving! 🌞

If you missed our first post of the series, go check it out here before starting this one! To those who’ve already read it, we hope it helped your cultural challenges here in the States. 

Today’s post is special for ✨ African students ✨ !

The tips we have come from a special guest, the beautiful Viviane Kirezi herself!

She’s from Rwanda, which is in the East of Africa. She then moved to California in 2013 to get her bachelor’s in architecture. Viviane currently works at IFI in the National Training Department as a National Training Assistant. 

Viviane has lived in the country for almost 10 years and has acquired experience as an international. She not only noticed the cultural differences between Africans and Americans but also recognized the cultural struggles African students have when they arrive here.

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to share her tips! 🤩

Let’s dive in! 👇

1. Don’t be shy 🙈

Speak in class as much as possible. In many African countries, it’s best to sit quietly while the professor speaks; however, this isn’t the style in the States. On the contrary, students here are expected to speak up during class. If you’re having trouble understanding parts of lectures, ask your professor for clarification. Pro tip: make use of the professor’s office hours!

Let’s get personal: one thing I struggled with when first arriving in the U.S. was understanding what my professors said and I was too scared to ask for clarification. Although some of it was because I was still getting used to the American accent, I remember an instance where I did a completely different homework assignment than my classmates because I didn’t ask anyone for help.   

2. Don’t worry if you’re not a native English speaker 🗣️

American students are increasingly accustomed to hearing fellow students speak with foreign accents.

3. Prepare for the workforce early 💼

In American universities, the drive to start planning ahead for success is powerful, and as a result, you’ll see many students do what they can to make themselves more marketable in the workforce. For example, getting involved in school events and clubs to boost their resumes and looking for internships as early as possible. 

4. When living with a roommate 👯

Bring a small African gift to break the ice and start off on the right foot. Be understanding and respectful of the shared space and settle tension before it turns into a fight. 

5. Be aware of personal space 🧘‍♀️

Many African cultures are fine with physical touch; however, people in the U.S. tend to prefer space. Make sure to not make anyone uncomfortable by touching them, as sometimes it can even be reported as sexual harassment. 

6. Seek to learn about the implications of being African in America 🤓

Given the history of African Americans, it’ll be helpful to learn it as you navigate life in America.

I talked to other African students and they could relate: upon returning from countries where we aren’t accustomed to considering the significance of our skin color and its societal implications, we find ourselves united by the experience of suddenly feeling distinct and unique. There have been many instances where we got treated differently without knowing why.

Let’s get personal again with an example. During my first years in the States, whenever I visited a store and was requested to leave my backpack at the counter for later retrieval, I initially assumed it was a standard procedure for all customers. However, I eventually came to realize this practice was only targeted at individuals perceived as potential shoplifters – individuals who looked like me. Therefore, it’s helpful to actively explore such biases and prepare oneself mentally to effectively manage such situations.

7. Getting used to the food 🍟

It’s usually difficult for African students to get used to American food. While waiting to get accustomed, ask about international markets around you; there might be foods from your home country!

8. Relating to elderly people 👵

In Africa, elderly people are very respected and are fine with being treated as elders. It’s different in the States– respect is appreciated but implying that they’re old is often offensive, so be mindful during your interactions. 

Coming from a culture where people take pride in being called “old” and having special respect because of their age, adapting to life in the States presented its challenges. During my initial year of college, I found myself living with a host family, and the task of addressing them by their names proved to be difficult. In response, I addressed them as “mom” and “dad,” a choice that looking back at it, seems inappropriate. A better approach to showing respect would involve addressing them by their names, beginning with “Mr.” or “Miss/Mrs.” This ensures a display of respect while maintaining cultural sensitivity.

SWITCHING OVER– Mariana here! 🇧🇷

I hope these tips are helpful in your American journey. I also would like to know if you have other tips for African students.

Let me know in the comments below! 🤗

See you in the next post! Or in other words, Murabeho! 👋

He’s saying “Bye” in Kinyarwanda, Viviane’s native language.

My Chameleon friend loves learning new cultural things! 😜

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