England and the United States, in the scheme of all things international, don’t appear to be that different from one another. We all speak English, after all.
And yet, upon arriving in Bath during my junior year of college to study abroad for the semester, it was obvious I was outside of my cultural comfort zone.
Consider, for example, the first time I ate at a British McDonalds and went to grab a handful of condiments before realizing that I had to pay for ketchup and mustard in the mother country.
I was used to America—land of the free, home of the brave, country of unlimited ketchup supply for Honey Boo Boo and Co.—and now here I was, doling out five pee (the equivalent of about a dime) for every packet of sauce I wanted. My cheeseburger ended up costing about the same as the 20 packets’ worth of ketchup I squirted on top of it all.
Let’s remember, though, that I was in another country to grow as a person and expand my world view (and waist line). That meant immersing myself in the British culture, while also sharing with them my own beliefs—namely, the belief that paying for a dollop of ketchup is barbaric.
Such are the highs, lows and cultural shocks that often come when studying abroad in a foreign country. And it isn’t just the students who experience them—it’s also the student housing providers.
Language barriers, unexpected cultural nuances and paperwork and payment complications certainly create additional work for student housing providers, yet most say the benefits of managing housing for international students outweigh the challenges.
International students often renew their leases and refer friends at far higher rates than American students, are studious, hardworking, and pay their rent on time because of strict program guidelines and visa restrictions and help increase diversity on and off campus.
I can’t say I was particularly studious during my time abroad—once using a hair clip to hold together my thesis paper because I couldn’t get my act together and find a stapler—but this is not a reflection on other foreign students.
Retention rates and good grades aside, though, the most rewarding aspects of housing international students seem to be the more intangibles—instances when a Middle Eastern student and his American roommate clash at the beginning of the semester and spend the holidays together three months later.
And as for the cultural differences that seem impossible to overcome—stingy condiment distribution comes to mind—we’ll just agree to disagree.
For more on international student housing, check out the article “A World of Difference” in the December issue of units, which mails Dec. 11.