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First Impressions of America Through the Eyes of International Exchange Students

Students on UNG's Dahlogena campus are on their way to class. (Photo by Yujin Kim)
Students on UNG’s Dahlonega campus are on their way to class. (Photo by Yujin Kim)

It has been about one month since the 2022 spring semester began. Students who are new to the University of North Georgia include several international students from various countries. In particular, there are six international students on the UNG’s Dahlonega campus who are on the Exchange Visitor Program for this semester. Two South Korean cadets and four undergraduates from the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain and France are among the six international students.

Azucena Perez, an education major from Spain, said, “I am here to improve my English skills and learn about American culture. But mostly, I am here to have fun.”

There were students who also wanted to experience a new lifestyle in America. “I’ve been to the United States four times as a trip on holidays. Now I am here to experience college life in the States,” said Maud van der Linden, a business major from the Netherlands.

The flags of many nations are hanging from the flagpoles. (Photo by Yujin Kim)
The flags of many nations are hanging from the flagpoles. (Photo by Yujin Kim)

What was your first impression of America?

Perez said, “Everything was so big and huge. After I arrived at the airport and when I was on my way to school, I was surprised that there were so many lanes on the road.”

Elisa Cuq, a history and law major from France said, “How cities and towns are organized was impressive.” She said the grid streets seemed “artificial.”

“I felt like people here start conversations very easily,” said van der Linden. She also added, “The food here was too sweet and salty.”

What did you expect about America, and how was it different from your expectations?

“I expected there to be some distance when Americans met new people,” said Perez. “However, I found out that they mostly don’t have barriers.”

Similarly, Nahhyun Kim, an English and business major from South Korea, said, “I didn’t expect that a random person could come up to me and start a conversation as if they knew me.”

She also said that she expected America to be so advanced in transportation, but was disappointed about the “poor public transportation conditions in places other than large, urban cities… I found that without a car, I could not go anywhere,” said Kim.

Can you think of any culture shocks you experienced so far?

“I can’t say it is a culture shock, but I had to adjust to the different meal times,” said Perez. “In Spain, I used to eat lunch at 3 p.m. and dinner at around 10 p.m. Now I am changing my habits.”

She also added, “I was shocked by people wearing short sleeves and pants in the cold. I think they don’t know what a cold is! ”

Cuq said she liked the party culture in America but found the high drinking age shocking. “In Europe, it is mostly 18, but in America, you should be 21 to drink,” said Cuq.

Kim said, “It was quite shocking that they don’t really recycle in America. In Korea, every public place provides recycling bins that separate paper, cans, plastics and general waste.”

What were your best and worst experiences so far?

“Sitting in the wrong class on my first day,” said Perez. “I felt awkward and asked another student sitting next to me just to know that I was in the wrong place.”

Van der Linden pointed out the “food in chow” as her worst experience so far. She was not the only one who was not satisfied with the food offered at the dining hall.

“I didn’t think it was that discriminatory,” said Kim. “But it was quite an unpleasant experience when somebody I met at the bar made fun of my mispronunciation.”

On the other hand, there were still good experiences that these exchange students went through so far. Staying in the student residence, Cuq met many other international students. “Meeting my new friends and having fun with them in America was my best experience so far,” said Cuq.

“My trip to Florida,” said Kim. Kim has been to Miami and Orlando during her second week in America. She said, “The weather was so nice down in Florida, and Miami Beach was beautiful. I wish I could travel around more in the States while I am here.”

Although there are some cultural differences and inconveniences in America, all the international exchange students agreed that they were enjoying their time having new experiences. Van der Linden mentioned she will try to “find some ways to stay abroad for a longer period after graduation.” “At the end of the semester,” said Cuq. “I want to be fluent in English and pass all my courses.” Kim said, “I wish I could have fun here and take the happy memories back home.”

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First Impressions of America Through the Eyes of International Exchange Students