International Students explain their biggest culture shocks

By Annie Tarwater, Contributing Writer —

Although the enrollment at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is mainly American students, there are more international students than one might imagine.

Many might not think of the day to day things that Americans do that seems normal, but when you come from another country to America for college there are many cultural shocks.

Freshman Niklas Gerdes’s first day in the U.S. was when he stepped foot in Chattanooga to start school in January. Gerdes is from Geestland, Germany and found that when he got to the U.S., there were many different cultural aspects.

“The biggest difference between here and Germany is definitely the people,” Gerdes said. “The Germans are always on time and very strict and everything is structured where as here, it’s not.”

Being early is not the only thing Gerdes said he is good at. Gerdes is on the men’s tennis team and enjoys his team mates as well as everyone else he has encountered so far.

“One thing I really like about Chattanooga is the Southern hospitality,” Gerdes said. “When you want to ask someone in Germany something you have to be very formal and say ‘yes sir’ or ‘no sir,’ but here everyone is just so nice and easy-going.”

Max Grobbelaar, a Johannesburg, South Africa native, is also a freshman. However, unlike Gerdes, Grobbelaar had been to the U.S. previously before attending college.

“Some differences I’ve noticed between South Africa and America is that America can’t stop consuming generic things, such as chain foods, and the same brands,” Grobbelaar said. “In South Africa most restaurants are independently owned.”

Grobbelaar also appreciates the safety in the U.S.

Rachele Gazzola, a senior from Palma de Mallorca, Spain, has been in Chattanooga throughout her four years of college, so she feels she has adjusted to American culture.

“There are a lot of things I found different, but the first one is that everything was so much bigger here,” Gazzola said. “Streets, buildings, cars; just everything is bigger.”

When Rachele first got to the U.S., everyone told her that she was too close to them when she spoke and that she was in their personal space.

“I remember when I came here everyone told me that I was in their personal space, and I was like oh my gosh how?” Gazzola said. “But since I’ve spent so much time here, I realized when I went back home how much my friends were in my personal space. I think that is because everything is so much bigger here and there’s more room to spread out.”

Another big culture difference that Gazzola found was the way we eat meals.

“When we go to restaurants we sit down and stay forever, and the first time I came here we sat down and ate and hurried out of the restaurant,” Gazzola said. “It’s so different back home. We take our time at home and stay for hours because the waiters and waitresses don’t get paid by tips.”


Alina Hunter-Grah

Alina Hunter-Grah

News Editor

Alina is a junior Communications major with a minor in Political Science from Clarksville, Tenn. Alina is also the official Chattanooga Correspondent for 2nd & Church, a literary magazine based out of Nashville, Tenn. Alina dreams of being an investigative journalist or political reporter.

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