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International students navigate cultural differences on campus

Collegian | Preston Box

One of the unique experiences of university life is the opportunity to engage with people from all around the world. International students on campus contribute to a diverse and vibrant community, but adjusting to a new country can be a challenge.

More than 1,850 international students are currently enrolled at Colorado State University, many of whom grew up in environments very culturally different from the United States. 


According to a study from the National Library of Medicine, one of the biggest challenges international students face is overcoming language barriers. Even students who come to CSU proficient in English struggle with informal language such as slang or nuances in dialect.

“(Slang is) something I find difficult, to be honest, even after two years (of being here),” CSU sophomore Ilkhomiddin Nabijonov said. “Some of my American friends will say something that I don’t understand, and I’ll ask them to clarify what they mean.”

Nabijonov is from Uzbekistan, where the predominant language is Uzbek. He studied English before coming to CSU and took the International English Language Testing System exam, so he was confident in his English, but informal language is something he’s had to pick up through experience. 

Areen Akbar, a CSU sophomore from Pakistan, said she also struggled with regional differences in English when she first moved to Fort Collins. 

“Cultural differences are a lot; they’re big, and I think it never gets better. The moment you think, ‘OK, now you’re adjusting,’ there’s something else that you find out.” -Areen Akbar, CSU sophomore from Pakistan

“We have the British education system back home, and British and American English are different,” Akbar said. “It’s not very different, but it’s different in a lot of ways.”

Students in her hometown of Karachi, Pakistan, get their education in English, Akbar explained, so she grew up speaking both English and Urdu, the national language of Pakistan.

“The slang and the different gestures in English — these are things that you don’t learn back home,” Akbar said. “It’s something that you learn when you are speaking or living in an area where people speak English.”

Going to school in an English-speaking region is also difficult for students who are proficient in the language because they have to translate everything they hear and say into their native language.


“Expressing is very hard in English because I think in Urdu, and I feel in Urdu, but I have to explain it to someone,” Akbar said. “It’s hard because your translations aren’t always accurate. The same word in English and Urdu don’t mean the same thing; it’s very different.”

Language is just one part of adjusting to campus for international students. Both Nabijonov and Akbar said navigating cultural differences is often something that takes a lot of getting used to.

“Cultural differences are a lot; they’re big, and I think it never gets better,” Akbar said. “The moment you think, ‘OK, now you’re adjusting,’ there’s something else that you find out.”

Akbar said the differences in culture are often small things that those who grew up immersed in American culture typically don’t think about.

“For example, when you go to a coffee shop, you tip a barista, right?” Nabijonov said. “But we don’t really do that where I live and in my culture. That was a different thing that I experienced coming here. Another thing is how people (dress) or their clothes. That’s a little different here; it’s a little bit more casual in the U.S.”

Nabijonov and Akbar both discussed how difficult it is to prepare for these cultural differences and said it’s something international students have to get used to as they go along.

“There are things that you learn, and nobody can teach you these things,” Akbar said. “There are a lot of cultural differences in terms of just very normal things. I think people talk about the big things, and those are all you can talk about, truly. All these small things you can’t pre-learn if you’re not here and you’ve not lived here.”

This cultural adjustment adds to the difficulties faced by international students as they come to a new country to pursue their education.

“​​Being an international student overall is a struggle in different ways because you have to adjust to a different culture,” Nabijonov said. “You’re living differently, and you’re speaking differently. You’re interacting with someone from a different culture.”

Reach Hannah Parcells at or on Twitter @HannahParcells.

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About the Contributor
Hannah Parcells, News Editor
Hannah Parcells is currently the news editor at The Collegian, a role that she loves dearly. Parcells uses she/her pronouns and began writing for The Collegian in fall 2023 as a reporter under the news, science, opinion and life and culture desks.  Parcells is currently pursuing two degrees: a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a concentration in global politics. Parcells has always been passionate about understanding and helping other people and hopes to use her education to try and leave the world a little better than she found it.  Raised in Castle Rock, Colorado, Parcells grew up with a love of learning, music and writing. She’s always working to learn more about the world through history and art and loves being introduced to new places, people and ideas.  On the off chance that she’s not buried in textbooks, research papers and policy analyses, Hannah can be found on a hike, watching movies or at any local bookstore or coffee shop, feeding her ongoing addictions to both caffeine and good books. Parcells is incredibly proud of the work she’s done at The Collegian so far and is excited to continue that work as an editor of the news desk.

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