Being an international student is likely to make you a source of fascination among your American friends and colleagues. People will want to get to know all about you.
In many of my classes I was an exotic anomaly, and people wanted to hear all about where I'd come from to study at UC—Berkeley. Keep in mind that many American students may have never left their own country, so for them, listening and talking to people from different cultures can be fascinating.
International students should expect to hear the following questions a lot of when studying at a U.S. college.
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1. What is that accent? Your accent is often one of the first things people will pick up on when you're studying abroad, but won't necessarily recognize, so it's often one of the first questions you'll be asked when you're introduced to people and getting to know them.
Be prepared to have people guess your accent wrong as well. One of my Irish friends was always being told she sounded like British singer Adele, who has a notable cockney twang.
2. How come you speak English so well? This isn't a question I heard much of myself, as English is my first language, but it's something students from non-English-speaking countries should expect, as the United Kingdom and the U.S. are notoriously bad at teaching their students second languages in school.
3. How is your school different from ours? Comparing schools is often an interesting topic of conversation, especially as the education systems across countries can be so vastly different.
Many students will also ask because they're thinking of studying overseas themselves. I'm currently hosting a Berkeley student who's visiting England for a semester, and she's already amazed by the amount of free time she has.
[See tips for international students on participating in class.]
4. What do you like about America? What do you find weird? Often seeing your home through a fresh pair of eyes can be an enlightening experience, making you look at the familiar in a different way.
Because it has such a big platform internationally, hearing what you think of America, and what you find different about it, is interesting for local students. People normally want your honest opinions, so don't always feel compelled to be nice – if there's something you find weird, don't be afraid to say so.
5. Can you teach me how to say something? Even speaking the same language, I was often asked to teach people how to "talk like an English person," and many of my friends were also entreated to teach a sentence or two in their own language or accent. Have a fun phrase or two on tap, and be prepared to find yourself imitated.
Whether it's in classes, on the quad, or just meeting people on an evening out, expect to hear questions like this on a regular basis. Although it may get irritatingly repetitive, try to answer them with good grace – and make sure that you're asking your own questions in return.
A key part of studying in another country is learning about other students and the differences in your lives and cultures. Find out what's interesting, what's weird and what's actually fairly similar about your lives.
[Learn what to take with you to a U.S. university.]
Plus, for all the run-of-the-mill questions that you're expected to answer, you could also find yourself fielding some really crazy ones. Here a few of the weirdest questions I got asked as an English student studying in California.
Q: Does Britain have Wi-Fi?
A: Yes, we have – only just – made it out of the Dark Ages.
Q: How many times have you met the queen?
A: Sadly never; she's not much in the way of hanging out in the southeast end of London. I hear she's nice, though.
Q: Do you drink tea and eat crumpets every day?
A: Tea yes; crumpets no. I don't know where Americans obtained this illusion about British people and crumpet consumption, but it's largely a falsehood.
Q: Is it true that all British people have wooden teeth and false legs? (I really did get asked this, by a man who I suspect fancied himself as a bit of a comedian.)
Emily Burt, from the United Kingdom, studied at the University of California—Berkeley on an exchange program. She will graduate from the University of East Anglia in 2014 with a bachelor's in American literature and creative writing.