To those of us born in the United States and have little or no international experience, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine the vast diversity and cultural differences present in the world outside of our own sphere of influences. This challenge also faces those who were born abroad, when they choose to pursue a study or work opportunity here in the U.S. To these international adventurers, our lives and cultural norms may seem completely new and foreign (literally and figuratively), from their own worldly views. During the fall of 2014, IU South Bend was fortunate to be called home by several international students who decided to leave behind their comfort zones and join us for their academic study. One such student was Alina Felder, who connected with us through a mutual exchange program with the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt in Bavaria, Germany. Alina is pursuing her undergraduate degree in European Studies and was afforded the opportunity to study in the U.S. before returning to Europe to continue her education.
After sitting down with Alina for an interview, it became clear that she had a very different global view than many Americans I’ve met who have not had the chance to travel or study abroad. Alina reflected, “I do not usually judge people, I attempt to shy away from that. I did have some preconceptions of American life before I came, but in most instances they turned out to be wrong.” One major standout that Alina noticed was in the style of clothing worn by people of similar age groups in Germany as compared to here in the U.S. “In Germany,” she mentioned, “you never see young people wearing yoga pants or sweat pants in public unless they look like they are going to exercise. People, I feel, judge these persons because they are not properly clothed according to societal standards. In America, it is more relaxed. You frequently see young women wearing yoga pants and I do not believe that people judge them as harshly, if at all, as compared to Germany.” From my standpoint, it is difficult to imagine our society actively judging young women who wear these types of clothes in public as part of their casual dress. I often think about Alina’s words, and it is clear that yoga pants and sweats are really becoming staples for many men and women, both young and old. It is interesting to see this small difference through Alina’s eyes and realize we have just become accustomed to seeing such casual clothing without pausing to consider that they could cause controversy in another culture.
Alina also mentioned a difference in school routines between her own university in Germany and IU South Bend. In Germany, they are much more focused the final result of their learning in classes, as opposed to the gradual result that we employ in the U.S. Alina noted, “the class schedules are very different in the U.S. than in Germany.” The content and frequency of the homework in American institutions also shocked her. “I felt overwhelmed at times. In Germany, we do not have homework, we only have our final exams. It is difficult to complete all the readings and assignments during the semester, especially for someone who does not speak English naturally.” The rigorous classroom assignments and demands cut into her freedom to see more of what the U.S. had to offer outside of the academic halls. Alina is looking forward to wrapping up midterms and having more time to get out and experience American culture to the fullest.