By Henry Rolle Jr

University can leave people feeling alienated and lost, regardless of the many amazing opportunities it holds, but how do you combat this? One student from the Caribbean shed light on this from his own, international experience…

Pursuing a higher education in itself can be scary. However, pursuing a higher education in a different country away from all the things that keep you grounded like your family, your friends, sights you see every day, things you do every day etc, is another story.

For most, the scariest thing about this would be leaving all of the things you love dearly behind. With international students, more specifically Caribbean students, it’s that plus one thing many of us experience unexpectedly, culture shock.

We come with the mindset and mentality that being away from our home will be different, but even knowing that it would, sometimes does not prepare us for all we face, physically, emotionally and culturally.

Even from when you arrive at the airport, you experience the British culture, people brushing past you to walk down the escalator, it is something that I have never seen in my life until I arrived to England.

Emmanuel Henriquez describes that the first thing that he noticed was different about Britain, was the pace of the people. “When I first arrived in London I had to catch the tubes, I was surprised how people rushed and walked fast-paced to get everywhere, compared to Turks and Caicos where it was more relaxed and laid back.” This was a lot of Caribbean individuals’ first brush with England and the British culture, the fast-paced walking and brushing past individuals without saying “excuse me,” would just throw you off straight away. Anywhere in the Caribbean this would be seen as a sign of disrespect, no matter the age, it was just how we were brought up.

Ishmeala Rigby also from Turks and Caicos shed light on this. When she came here she would walk down the street, saying “morning or good morning to anyone that she saw.” This is not unusual as it is custom in the Caribbean, no matter where or who, when you see an individual you say good morning, but “here people usually don’t answer or just give you a weird look.” 

The same thing went for answering individuals older than herself, with a “yes ma’am or yes sir,” it is another custom that we have in the Caribbean. If someone older than you asks you a question or you’re answering them, you would say yes ma’am or sir.

A lot of the things that occur within the Caribbean don’t usually exist normally within England, and so this was when we knew for sure that we were really far away from home now.

Adjusting to things that you never had a problem with before is one of the hardest things Caribbean-exchange students have to face upon their arrival. Shannon Fernander, from The Bahamas, describes home as being “family oriented and that the lifestyle is more independent and individuals are not as committed to their families as we are when back home, for example planning to visit family members over holidays or planning to do so.”

More importantly she spoke out about one of the things near and dear to every Caribbean persons heart, their countries’ food and seasonings. She elaborated on the fact that “the food portions, seasonings available and options available were all different, and this was one of the thing that made adjusting to the culture here more difficult for her.

Azizah Hosein from Trinidad and Tobago, describes her experience with culture shock, being one that “the things the British kids were talking about during her freshers’ week. She was not interested in and could not relate to the things they spoke about, because the way they thought and spoke about things were different.” She elaborated on the fact that the music selection in the party scene is different too and how the music that is most popular and frequently played, is not music that is popular in her home country.

Food, Music, and being able to relate to individuals, these are the three of the hardest things to relate to coming from the Caribbean.

But lastly, the most difficult difference is with the weather. The inconsistency, the way it’s measured, the rain, the cold, the snow, the hot with no breeze. It is what takes us the most time.

When it is rainy in The Bahamas, things are shut down; this occurs most days and is a regular part of the daily routines there. This inevitably makes it hard to be productive when you have been conditioned to sleeping in rainy weather.

Weather being told in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, frequent cold weather and people’s ability to wear no coats or jackets – it’s confusing? Surely it is hard to go outside without covering up within these conditions?

Culture shock can come in many different forms depending on what is most important to you or what you depend on most to keep you grounded away from home. For Caribbean students, a way to combat this is just to meet with other Caribbean students, most usually suffering the same issues and struggles. This allows them to relate to one another and in turn, makes everything else just that little bit easier.

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