International students and the challenges of American social norms

UVU is set to receive a new batch of international students for the spring semester 2018. With the expected benefits of inclusion and diversity, not to mention the income the school can derive from international students, it is easy to ignore the challenges these incoming students will face as newcomers to America. One of those challenges that often escapes attention is the difficulty international students face with America’s social etiquette.

According to Steve Crook, director of international student services at UVU, there are approximately 1,000 international students at UVU. These students are managed by UVU International Student Services, which is part of the Center for Global and Intercultural Engagement. The ISS, according to its homepage, “provides visa information, employment advice and academic advice to international students at the university.” Each semester, the ISS holds an orientation specifically for incoming international students where they provide, according to the website, “a wide range of support services designed to promote the academic success of international students.” These services are great and much needed, but they mainly focus on the academic side of student life. What’s missing, and what many international students would find useful, is a consultative session on American or Utah Social Standards.

What kind of compliments are appropriate in the workplace or to a classmate? What language, style of dress or eye contact can we adopt without offending? How to successfully accept, reject or propose a date with a potential partner? These questions may seem trivial, but it would be interesting to know how many international students have been reported to the school’s Title IX office, or to the police, for improper advances or stalking. Many international students are not even aware that they could end up in jail simply because they took someone’s ‘no’ as a call to be more convincing or persistent with advances.

The state of social life at UVU is already far from where it should be, possibly due to the university’s non-traditional education system and the lack of student dormitories. There are currently very few opportunities for interactions that promote friendship and social relations among UVU students. As such, international students are unlikely to learn the prevailing social etiquette by relying on UVU associations.

The office of international student services is of great help to international students, at least in helping them achieve academic excellence, but there is also a need for incoming international students to be made aware of the American social rules of interaction. This would help prevent unintentional breaches on the part of international students and also allow them to form and maintain lasting relationships with other students.

About Marjorie C. Hudson

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