Culture shock is something that a person deals with when going into a new environment. For some it could be traveling to a new country where you’re not familiar with the culture and language. Or it could be as simple as going to a new school where it’s obvious that you represent the minority, as was the case for me.
My high school – Thomas Edison High – was very diverse. Because my norm is being surrounded by many different cultures and ethnicities, coming to the University of St. Thomas has been very different for me.
In three of my four classes, I am one of the only African Americans. To me, it’s the “elephant in the room”. While I was typing this blog, I became curious if others felt this way too. I asked my friend (who represents the majority) if she noticed how “not diverse” our classes are. She said that she isn’t really aware of it. I wonder why that is…
So anyway, how can one who looks like an outsider fit in?
For me, the adjustment started this past summer. St Thomas offers a program each summer for incoming freshman who are “under represented” called The REAL Program (REAL stands for Reaching Excellence in Academics). My group consisted of 16 mixed people, Asians, Indians, African Americans and Latinos, and the program lasted five weeks (basically my WHOLE summer!). We took a theology course (which is required to graduate), got on-campus jobs, learned about and utilized many campus resources, lived on campus, did fun activities like Valley Fair, Minnesota United FC soccer games, movie nights, etc. (all for free!).
And most importantly, I met 15 of my best friends. Programs like this help with the transition from high school to college and bring awareness to diversity on campus. Some of my high school friends laughed at me for doing the REAL Program because it took up my whole summer, but it was really one of the best experiences of my life.
Looking for these types of programs is actually super easy. I took five minutes to search for diversity programs at different colleges in Minnesota. Hamline University in St. Paul has diversity scholarships (as most colleges do), the University of Minnesota has diversity leadership workshops and Mankato State University hosts enriching educational programs and cultural activity conferences for not only students, but faculty and staff as well. These groups and activities will help you feel included on campus and get some connections started.
In my three weeks so far on campus I have joined the Hana club, which is the biggest diversity club on campus. They host activities to promote awareness of different cultures. I really enjoy this club because there is a strong sense of community, like we’re all united. My roommate also identifies with the African American community, so this has helped with my transition from high school to college as well.
Dealing with culture shock is a serious thing. It causes you to be confused, sad, lonely and nervous. However, there are ways of dealing with it. Join clubs, make friends with everybody and just remember that lots of other people are in the same boat as you.
Most importantly, try and ignore it. Being able to adapt to new environments is a skill and it can be learned. Realize that you are part of the community, too!