Email from abroad: America

Email from abroad: America

Like many students who dream of pursuing higher education in America, I have watched plenty of Hollywood movies, read news and books about America, listened to pop music and talked with many people who have been to the country. But nothing prepared me for actually arriving here.

I recently enrolled at Illinois State University as an exchange student and I have found find it really challenging coming from a developing country such as Cambodia, due to the cultural barriers and differences in their educational system.

Travelling to another country and leaving your loved ones behind can be a really difficult experience for some people and a new, exciting one for others. Along with some other international students, I experienced culture shock the first week, felt really depressed and wanted to go back home. However, I soon realised that this is an amazing opportunity for me to be independent and more mature by learning to do things on my own. Nothing is gained from staying in a room and sulking. Instead, I chose to join activities on campus and started to talk with my American peers. I think that opening your mind to cultural diversity and being social are the keys to making new friends and losing your sense of loneliness.

In America, students live in dormitories on campus, making it very convenient to get to class. It was very uncomfortable for me at first, since I had to sacrifice the independence of having my own space, but then I realised how awesome it is to live with a person who you can practise English with and share experiences with every day.

Course registration was another new, weird and exciting experience. In America students can choose their desired courses, most of which are related to their major. You may, for example, find a Math major registering in music or art class for fun or for credit. “Class Shopping” is very common. Students enroll in as many classes as they want and start to go to each class for the first week. Sometimes the names of the classes are attractive but once you get the syllabus, you realise that it isn’t what you expected or vice versa. It is common to add and drop classes in the first week or two.

I am majoring in Public Relations and Communications, but for the fun of it I added a piano performance class to my schedule. There is no reading so it is a good opportunity for me to get some credit, relax a bit and learn.

Professors here also expect students to read books prior to class. If students do not read, they probably won’t understand what professors are talking about. Also, it is a good idea to read in advance because you can share ideas and debate in class, increasing your chance of getting an A in the class.

I registered for an American history class, but since I have no background in American history, I have no idea what the professor is talking about. I told my professor about my predicament and she gave me a book and told me she would take extra time to explain the lesson. Professors are nice and helpful, and if we have any problems we can go and talk to them during their office hours.

It may sound tough studying in America, but you should remember that challenges give people experience. That is why people come to universities like this one and pay a large amount of money, so they can face difficult classes and ultimately get the chance to improve themselves.

If you have studied at an American university, what do you think are the major differences to Cambodian higher education? Tell us aout your experience at


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