Don't get me wrong, studying abroad is the best thing I've ever done and I love being in Bloomington. I actually have more American friends than international ones, but that doesn't mean that my "foreignness" is not incredibly apparent sometimes, both to me and others, in the weirdest ways. Here is a top 10 list of the confusing stuff we have to deal with:
1. People know nothing about your home country, but will still very eagerly share their misconceptions about it. I have gotten questions like “do they speak English in Norway,” “do they speak Dutch in Norway,” (why?) and “is Norway really different from Sweden, are they historically different countries?” I have also seen people surprised by Norway being part of the Western world, and my roommate once got a question about whether someone from Norway is a “Norweyan.” Yup, that’s it.
2. No one will ever pronounce your name right. While my first name is usually recognizable (but, of course, has many variations!), my last name is NOT. If I’m at an office waiting in turn I usually react not to sounds reminiscent of my last name (Hauge), but to a word being repeated (with a hesitant question mark) thrice or more. Then it’s probably me. I also prefer to avoid name tags, because although they say "Idun Hauge," that basically translates to "FOREIGN."
3. Sometimes people think they’re also *insert nationality.* one of the responses I get when I say I’m Norwegian is “oh, me too!” The sentence “I’m also Norwegian” actually translates to something like “my great great grandfather was probably an immigrant from Norway.” At first I was very confused about this, since it's usually followed by outrageous pronunciations of traditional dishes no one likes anyway (actually, Norwegians eat more tacos than anyone else). Rømmegrøt? “Rrrroemeh-greeeewt.” Oh, that.
4. The “foreign card” is the perfect get out of jail free card. Don’t know something really basic? Don’t worry about it. When you get confused by obviously stupid things, just conveniently mention something that highlights how you’re foreign, and you’re forgiven in no time. You don’t know what hammers are used for? No worries, you’re foreign. You don’t know the difference between right and left (that's me)? It's probably just because you're foreign.
5. We get to be the weird kid in class. Ever tried to take a class with only Americans? Oh yeah, you get to be the weird one with the “unique” perspective, and anything you say will be explained by your foreignness. And don't get me started about sentences that begin with "here in America..."
6. The food. WHY. Since that topic deserves its own list, here it is: (Food) Culture Shock: 10 Foods I Will Never Understand. I just wanted to put in an honorable mention of a friend of mine from China, who once ate a whole box of cream cheese thinking it was a dessert. Oh the struggles...
7. Only international students get excited about squirrels. There is a reason ISA posts pictures of squirrels, and no one else. While some admit that chipmunks are cute ("they're different!" Mmmhmm), most compare them to rats. One time when I was watching a squirrel being really weird (and let's face it, super cute) a guy I know came up to me and literally told me it had to be me because no one else would bother to watch a squirrel. Whatever.
8. You bond with people from the most random places in the world just because you’re not American. Thought you had nothing in common with someone from Zimbabwe? South Korea? China? Well, now I have good friends from all of those countries, mainly because we initially bonded over being foreign. Amazingly, it turned out our shared experience was a way to discover that we have tons in common.
9. Bathroom stalls are the opposite of private. For some reason, the doors to bathroom stalls are built so that you can kind of see the person sitting on the toilet. It's beyond me why, in a culture so obsessed with not showing nudity in the shower, how this is acceptable. This was merely weird at first. Then I bought a romper a couple of years ago. Funsies. Speaking of dress, Americans dress like they’re in Norwegian middle school. One time a girl told me I dress like her mom. Well, then her mom must have great taste.
10. You walk while all the Americans take the bus. If this were a consistent behavior, it wouldn't be that confusing. What REALLY confuses me is that when the weather is amazing and any Norwegian would ditch school to go hiking, the buses are so full they say "FULL LOAD." Taking the bus is also a waste of time if you live on campus. Living in Foster my first year, walking to class would take me 15-20 min tops, whereas taking a bus meant waiting, then traffic, then being late to class.
These are perhaps the most confusing things that generally happen to international students, at least at IU. While it's sometimes frustrating to be labeled as "foreign" in every situation, you also make new friends by being different, both American and fellow international students. Personally I have learned to embrace my difference (while simultaneously learning more about American culture), and my favorite way to say has become to jokingly ask: "is it because I'm, y'know, foreign?"
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