“Culture shock: a feeling of confusion, doubt or nervousness caused by being in a place (such as a foreign country) that is very different from what you are used to.”

–Merriam-Webster Dictionary


With 72 percent of Elon students studying abroad, there is no doubt that a large portion of our community worries about experiencing culture shock during their semester out of the country.

There is, however, an even smaller group of people within our community that has to deal with this culture shock all four years of their college careers: international students.

There were 158 international students enrolled at Elon University last year, and the university plans to continue to increase its international student population, according to Elon’s website.

Is simply increasing the number of international students enough, or does the university need to do more to combat the culture shock our international students experience?

“I’m trying to keep myself busy so I don’t have time to think of home,” said Cecilia Ibarra, a freshman from Guatemala. “If I don’t, I’ll be homesick.”

Homesickness is something many freshmen experience, not just those from out of the country. But this common longing for home can be amplified by the language barrier many international students face every day.

“When I’m on the phone with my mom speaking Spanish, people give me really weird looks,” said sophomore Daniela Pereyra from Peru. “It reminds me I’m not from here.”

Many international students, like Ibarra and Pereyra, came from schools where the English language was only spoken in English class, making the transition into Elon that much harder.

In addition, some international students have a hard time adjusting to the classroom procedures of American universities.

“One major issue is working with professors,” said Nada Azem, a senior whose hometown is in Syria. “A lot of professors do not understand a lot about our culture.”

Given the growing population of international students, Azem believes “Elon should focus on creating a diverse faculty and not just a diverse student body.”

Although many of Elon’s international students have to deal with culture shock, the university has several programs in place to help make international students’ transitions a little easier.

One of these is the International Fellows program, which Ibarra participated in.

“It helped me get to know everyone who’s in the same situation as me,” she said, insisting the program helped her become more comfortable here at Elon.

The university also offers a number of great opportunities international students may not get in their home countries, like the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center, the Multicultural Center and El Centro de Espanol, making the experience that much more worthwhile.

“I think I was culture-shocked in a good way,” Azem said. “There’s a lot of great things and great opportunities here”.

It’s clear that the university is already making efforts to help international students become accustomed to life at Elon, but there are still improvements to be made.

“The University could do more to try and integrate the families of international students the way they integrate other families,” Pereyra said.

Pereyra has tried to get information such as letters and pamphlets for her family in other languages, but has not had much luck.

“I wish the school would do more to integrate an international culture, rather than just the international students,” says Pereyra.