Nimarta Narang | Hello U.S.A.
Pizza and English
Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 01:10
Last Friday, I attended a discussion for international students adjusting to the U.S. culture called “Decoding U.S. Culture” — a topic that is conveniently very pertinent to this column. I found it oddly similar to a scene from “Mind Your Language,” an old TV show I used to watch where students from all over the world were in a classroom hoping to learn English. The main idea of the show was that if you knew the main language spoken, you could easily adapt.
This was certainly not the case in the talk last week. Although we know the language here, we have had difficulty translating some of the cultural practices to those we practice back home. It was quite amusing to watch all of us munch away at our pizza when our first words of conversation were lamenting how much we missed food from back home.
I then thought about how Americans are perceived when they visit other countries, such as Thailand. Do we refer to them as “internationals” since they aren’t from our country? No — we just think of them as Americans. Despite the vastness of the country, it seems to me that those from the United States are given the more specific label of “American,” whereas everyone else from other countries are grouped under the term “international.”
In this discussion of “American” versus “international” culture, I realized how much we international kids are sacrificing while studying here at Tufts. We have moved away from our houses, families, friends, communities, language and cultural cuisine. As admirable as Dewick is for supplying food from places around the world, I have heard students complain about how it falls short of the taste of food from back home. Maybe it doesn’t taste like authentic Thai, Indian or Vietnamese food because we aren’t in our hometowns. But at the same time, it seems like pizza, hamburgers, French fries and other types of food associated with the “American” diet are accessible almost everywhere.
The same goes for language. English is spoken in many places around the world, but this isn’t true of many other languages. Sure, there are people from Thailand, India and China living abroad in the United States who create close-knit communities to maintain their culture. But for international students, we have to actively seek out these communities. From what I’ve noticed back home in Thailand, many cultural practices have shifted from accommodating the locals to accommodating tourists — most of whom are Americans. However, I have to keep in mind that I’m trying to create a link between tourists in other countries and students in the United States. The only difference I see, though, is that international students stay for a longer period of time, forcing us to adjust instead of marvel at how different the customs are.
I’m not trying to bash the American culture at all. In fact, I want to take this opportunity to share how great the magnitude of change is for international students. Just yesterday, I had my first proper Indian meal, and it felt as if home was a little closer. The discussion on U.S. culture was conveniently held just a week after Parents Weekend, when most international kids were surrounded by parents, but not their own. At the one-month mark since we’ve arrived, homesickness has become a reality for some. My suggestion is that the next time you’re talking to a friend who happens to be an “international,” ask them over to your house for the weekend. A family setting may be just what they need at this point in time.
Nimarta Narang is a freshman who has not yet declared a major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org