Learning How to Communicate in the U.S.

Ti Chen studying at the College of William and Mary explains her own conclusion on how international students can overcome communication boundaries while studying in the United States.

The most difficult part for me, an international student, is to accept the fact that I am facing huge amount of challenges. These challenges can closely related to the lack of cultural background. Among those distracting issues, the insufficient ability to participate in a meaningful interpersonal communication effectively, respectfully, and enthusiastically ranks the top.

During the first several weeks in the fall semester last year, I was not particularly aware of the art of interpersonal communication. I used to spend time listening and agreeing, but not really involving in talking with people. After transition weeks, I gradually realized that my philosophy of talking “harmonically” will fail here in the U.S. Thus, I made up my mind to be more talkative.

However, not everything will go with will. On the one hand, I don’t know how to respond to others’ conversations. For example, sometimes when people talk about The Daily Show, I was too confused to join their conversations related to politics, economy, or even simple jokes since I was not familiar with the cultural background. Rather, I could only either nod, said “exactly”, or just kept silent. Because of the boundary between cultures, I always feel isolated and embarrassed when trying to lead or at least really involve in deeper discussions with others.

international student voice magazine how to communicate in the U.S. Sitting in silence, listening……

On the other hand, I cannot effectively articulate my thoughts on specific events. For instance, I was going through an interview in order to get an internship. When asked what I would do if I accidentally offended someone who is not the same race as me at work, I gave a superficial and unprofessional answer even though I knew basic rules. It is hard to interpret and answer questions required for cultural background and exposures to a specific condition. It will lead to many disappointments. In my case, I did not get the internship and was told to work harder on problems in reality. All these together impede my ambition to take advantage of the open-minded atmosphere in the U.S,which enables everyone to express their own thoughts, defend their beliefs, and introduce higher level of talk by arguing with each other or expressing opinions appropriately.

In order to overcome this hardest challenge, I started from fundamental ways.

Here is my rationale:I am nearly a new-born baby in this unfamiliar society, so I think actively interacting with kids would help. With this logic, I take a part in volunteer activities to communicate with little kids. I am in Campus Buddies, a non-profit group aiming to let volunteers accompany kids with mentally or physically disabilities as their friends. I enjoy being in this group because I really feel their happiness when they play art or do exercises with our volunteers. Those kids have a little bit different aspects from the normal ones, but they do have the same level of creativity, individual interests and good personalities. I’ve learned a lot from them:

1. I know more basketball players from a kid NBA fan

2. I know Star Wars and how most Americans feel about it from a boy who is a big Star Wars fan

3. I know more information of dinosaurs from a girl whose dream is to be a female scientist playing in Jurassic Garden.

The information from those kids paves my way to know deeper about this country, this society and its multiple sides; this also provides me more chances to keep more native communications with schoolmates. I am happy to see that I do progress in knowing wider range of topics and in putting complicated stuff into simpler concepts.

Since I still think I need to improve my ability to argue so that I can communicate not only in a leisure way but a more serious way like a American college student would do, I enrolled in a summer program which contains a critical thinking class about how to articulate reasoning. We had this class at University of Cambridge, U.K., and analyzed lots of literature associated with logic deductions and argument illustrations. This class enabled me to find the main point of an event, develop further investigations, schematize those supports and explain my own reasoning.

For example, when I talk about immigration issues afterward, I found that it is easier for me to refer multiple researches, textbook knowledge and current news to support my argument. Through this tunnel, I have deeper understanding about what I need to argue for. This is another huge progression I’ve made after I spent about a year studying in the U.S.

Nevertheless, I know these are only basic steps, so I am also trying to develop my communication skills in particular expertise. From the beginning of this summer break, I’ve been involved in a marketing internship because I  major in marketing and I want to get to know this realm as soon as possible. It is a social media marking internship and my basic task is promoting the services of this company through social media platforms and emailing to other agents. It is hard at first because I do not know what kinds of posts are attractive to Americans; I do not know the appropriate manners to promote a service to other agencies through emails either. The only way is to ask the experienced and managers and I did ask. They gave more information about the service, taught me how to make my point clearer and the showed me proper ways of email marketing. I am now qualified enough to send a polite and clear promoting email to agencies which I haven’t contacted before. It’s been another thing that I am proud of.

In the following semesters, I intend to explore the ways to better solve my communicating problems resulted from the lack of cultural common sense. I want to set up an education club on campus in order to help more students like me crack down communicating dilemma by presenting reasoning skills, doing workshop about culture analysis and setting up group missions.

My impression is that as an international student, through my constant efforts and practical plans, I can really enjoy the best resources in the U.S., in the world, by communicating effectively, meaningfully and lively.


Article written by Ti Chen for International Student Voice Magazine.

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