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America Through the Eyes of International Exchange Students: After a Semester

Photo by Yujin Kim

The end of the 2022 spring semester is right around the corner. It has been four months since the international exchange students from the University of North Georgia Dahlonega campus came to the United States. In the second week of the semester, the Vanguard met four undergraduates from the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain and France and asked them for their first impressions of America. Eleven weeks later, the Vanguard met them again to ask how they felt, getting ready to go back to their homelands.


What was your most memorable experience?

Elisa Cuq, a history and law major from France said, “The trip to Hawaii during the spring break. The cocktail sunset cruise was my best part. It had an amazing view, and the sea was so blue. It was a totally new experience. I can’t forget the week I woke up and saw the beautiful landscape.”

Azucena Perez, an Education major from Spain said, “I would like to say my birthday. I turned 21 here, and I had my first legal drink at a party. The legal drinking age is 18 in Spain, so having two legal birthdays was great!”


What was your weirdest experience?

Cuq reminded her of a conversation with a guy she met on the Hawaiian cruise. According to Cuq, the man asked, “Where the hell did you get that from?” As she showed him a confused face, he replied, “The smile.”

Perez added, “I also have that kind of experience. A guy at a party asked me to marry him. He was really drunk, and he even repeated it three times! It was a really weird, interesting experience.”

Maud van der Linden, a business major from the Netherlands said, “Some people asked me if I was married just because I was wearing a ring on my left fourth finger. In many European countries, it is common to wear the wedding ring on the right hand. I had to answer the question several times.”


What was the biggest culture shock?

Nahhyun Kim, an English and business major from South Korea said, “The hookup culture was a shock to me. I am more used to a committed relationship, and it seemed like nobody is having a serious relationship.”

Van der Linden said, “The obligated attendance in class was different to me, too. Back in the Netherlands, college students are more independent and the school let the students be responsible for their own school work, without forcing attendance.”

She added, “I see some people who smoke weed frequently when I go to parties. Sometimes I can smell weed in the dorm on the weekends.”

Perez said, “Speaking of smoking, I found that most college students prefer vaping to smoking cigarettes. I think I could barely see someone smoking cigarettes around campus.”


What was one of the misconceptions of America that proved wrong?

Perez said, “Before I came here, I heard a lot about individualism in the United States. So I thought Americans will not be that open to foreigners. But I found out that they always try to be very helpful and are friendly to foreigners like me. I made a lot of friends here.”

Cuq added, “I also thought like that too. Thankfully, the friends I met here were willing to help me anytime. Since I didn’t have a car, they drove me to places where I couldn’t go without a car.”


What will be the reverse culture shock when you go back?

“Language,” said Cuq. She said that speaking English all the time made her so used to the language that she found herself using English when she calls her family and friends back in France. Cuq added, “I use small words such as “but” and “yeah” a lot in the middle of the conversation in French.”

Kim said, “I think I might realize how spicy Korean food was. The last time I ate Korean ramen that I brought here, it was too spicy for me, even though I was very used to the taste before.


What will you miss about the U.S. the most?

“Friends. People I met here,” all four of them said in chorus.

Kim said, “The relaxation and the inner peace I felt here. I really enjoyed my life without the impatience of job hunting.”

Van der Linden said, “I might miss the easy-going college work. I have a lot of work to do back in the Netherlands.”

“I will also say the lifestyle,” said Cuq. “I will miss being in the dorm, the daily school life with my people around me.”

Perez said, “Independence. I used to live with my mom back in Spain, and I think I will miss my life here doing whatever I want to do.”

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America Through the Eyes of International Exchange Students: After a Semester