Workshop to discuss Americanization, reverse culture shock

By Stephanie Kim

They make up 21 percent of the University’s student body, represent 115 countries from around the world and help make the University the most diverse public university in the Big Ten. They are the 8,850 international students on campus.

On Tuesday, the Asian American Cultural Center aims to change the usual conversation on international students from statistics to personal stories. The AACC will host a workshop from 6-7:30 p.m. to discuss the adjustment from American culture to life at home — otherwise known as “reverse culture shock.”

“They may go home, and friends and family may not know this new person,” said Mai-Lin Poon, assistant director of the AACC. “They may hear you on the phone and see you through Skype, but it’s different when it’s face-to-face with that person for the first time.”

Jessica Biddle, assistant director of International Student and Scholar Services, said culture shock is an important topic that usually goes unmentioned.

“We don’t talk about what it’s like to go home again; we talk about culture shock and adjusting to (the) U.S.,” Biddle said. “But a lot of times, it’s not brought up about how difficult it is to go back home now that you’ve had this international experience.” 

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Poon and Biddle will co-lead the workshop, “Americanization and Reverse Culture Shock.” The workshop is part of the InterConnect series, which focuses on different aspects of American culture as well as exposure to University resources, according to Biddle. 

The night will begin with a brief overview of the two concepts followed by an interactive dialogue between a panel of five international students and the attendees of the workshop.

“It’s creating safety and support, to empower people and to share stories and experience because there’s value in them,” Poon said. 

While this workshop will be the first of its kind, it aims to resolve an issue many international students may have had to wrestle with for decades. 

Since 1967, the first year accounted for in the records of the Division of Management Information, international students have had a growing presence on campus — particularly students from Asian countries. At the start of the spring semester, enrollment reports of the University showed that 21 percent of the total on-campus student population was international. 

“(Asian countries) have always been a large percentage of the foreign student total, and that percentage has been increasing in recent years,” said Elizabeth Stern, DMI associate director. 

From 1967 to 2014, the percentage of Asian international students of the total international student population has grown from 58 percent to approximately 89 percent, 

Overall, the entire international student population has grown from 1,108 students in 1967 to 8,850 students in spring 2014.  

The workshop seeks to address this growing number and the possible hardships international students face while adjusting to life both on and off campus.

“How do you handle change when there’s a fixed idea of home?” Poon said. “It’s not a quick fix but information. You learn best from talking to others.” 

While the event is advertised to international students, domestic students are welcomed to come and are even encouraged to attend. 

“Especially with a topic like this, it can be useful for anybody,” Biddle said. “It’s that idea of you realizing that you’ve changed and people not realizing that you’ve changed.”

Stephanie can be reached at [email protected].