Adapting to American culture

Anush Yepremyan

I was privileged enough to have an opportunity to study in the United States of America as an international student from Ukraine when I was fourteen years old – which was eight years ago. I went to a wonderful school, West Catholic High School, for my freshman year.

I remember my first day at that school as if it was yesterday. I was very nervous, and I could feel my heartbeat on the tips of my toes. My main fear was that I wound not be able to express myself due to language barrier. I was trying to have as little communication as I possibly could. And I almost succeeded, until we had to introduce ourselves in front of the class.

And the second the word “international” flew out of my mouth, I was surrounded by thirty people who were asking questions one after another. I remember one of the first questions were, “Where is Ukraine? Is it a kingdom?” “Do you have McDonalds? Does it taste the same?” and “Say something in your language.” It turned out to be the opposite of less communication, but it was so much fun.

During the first three months, I definitely experienced a little bit of cultural shock and the taste of American slang. I think Americans are the nicest people I have ever met in my entire life. They always smile and say, “Hi, how are you?” But at that time I did not know it was the case.

One day, I noticed the students looking at me suspiciously. Finally, my classmate comes up to my locker and whispers, “Is that true that you are a princess and that you came to study here so that nobody would recognize you?” At one point, I even had an image of myself wearing a gown and gracefully waving at the crowd. WHAT? People do have a wild imagination!

My most embarrassing situation was when we were dinning at our friends house, and the host was giving leftovers to his guest. One of them said, “Just give me a doggy bag.” And guess what: I took it literally, but the worst part was that I actually asked if the guy had dogs. The man looked so confused, “No,” he paused for a while and scratched his head, “this is for my kids.” Here comes that awkward moment! Therefore, I learned that a doggy bag is something that you are taking home for yourself, not dogs.

Actually, I take it back. I am not sure which one is more embarrassing. Kids at my school tend to use a word “buddy” a lot. To me it sounded like “body.” So when one kid came up to me during the lunch and asked if I wanted to see/meet his “buddy” I almost choked on my apple juice. I hesitated for a while until we were clear that “buddy” was a person and a close friend.

I think it was a priceless one-year experience! I saw a totally new world, experienced great culture and hospitality, learned new perspectives, met a lot of incredible people and improved my language. This trip inspired me to learn foreign languages. That is one of the reasons I speak five different languages today.  

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