Wednesday, July 25, 2018

3 Tips for Building Cross-Cultural Friendships


When I came to the US five years ago, I didn’t know much about English besides the grammar rules that I memorized in high school. I had never met anybody from South America, Africa, or Europe, and I did not know that outside of the Asian countries, drinking plain hot water is not normal. Cultural adaptation was not easy for me. There were times that I wish I was back in Taiwan, sharing meals with my family. And there were times that I felt misunderstood because I was not able to express myself fully in English. However, I was fortunate to gain a few cross-cultural friends who helped me realize the limit of my own culture and the beauty of cultural diversity.

Reflecting back in the past five years, I could not be more grateful for being an international student because it gives me an opportunity to meet people from all over the world. According to the 2017 U-M International Center Statistical Report, there are over 7,000 international students from over 117 countries. The uniqueness of each international student enriches this campus. In this blog, I am going to share with you about three tips that I learned to build cross-cultural friendships. Please feel free to comment and share your tips with me too!

1. Be proud
Be proud of ourselves. Living in a foreign place and studying in English are not easy tasks. We are very brave, so do not beat yourself up whenever you face any hardship. Instead, be proud of who you are. Our cultures make us special and important. A US friend of mine once told me that she was so thankful for our friendship because she learned so much about Taiwan, which broadened her perspectives and stretched her worldview.

2. Be open
Be open to new experiences. Lifestyles can be very different from culture to culture. Time perceptions, cooking styles, courtesies, and even the way people say “hi” are very different. My ways often are not the only way. They are just one of the ways. Therefore, be curious, humble, and intentional about your friends from other cultures.

3. Be Proactive 
Building cross-cultural relationships may be challenging because there are many unknowns. However, accept the challenges by stepping out of your comfort zone. It is also okay to disclose fear and uncertainties to cross-cultural friends. Most of the time, they are as nervous as us about the friendship.

The world is very big and full of wonders. Cross-cultural friendships open doors for us to explore the wonders. Check out the Maize Pages for organizations of your interest, attend events across campus, and ask a group of your classmates to hangout. Do not give-up when you face barriers. Building cross-cultural friendships is not easy. However, remember, the fears are mutual. Be confident, open, and proactive, and I believe you will gain indispensable cross-cultural friendships at U-M.

International Center Summer Orientation Peer Adviser
Written by Shih-Ya Chang
Graduate Student

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Thing or Two about Psychological Wellness at U-M

In summer 2016, the 13-year-old Lori Mae Hernandez received a standing ovation for her stand-up comedy act. Her prime joke was about her babysitting qualifications. She said, “My only qualification to be a babysitter is that I used to be a baby.” By the same token, my only qualification to write about mental health is that I struggled with a number of mental health problems as an international student here at the University of Michigan, particularly in the beginning of my study. After all, there is no formula and every person is different when it comes to mental health. By way of a working definition, according to U-M’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), “Wellness is a proactive and positive approach to living that increases resiliency to stress by promoting life balance and contentment.”

Having stated my confession, and established what psychological well being entails, I would like to share a couple of related tips that might benefit new international students.

Find a support community that suits you

Despite the incredible number of student organizations on campus (please check the Maize Pages for complete directory or International Student Associations for special interest), it may not always be easy to find a support community that matches your particular needs. Be patient and stay open-minded; there are always your “soul mate” communities to grow together.

Coming from Africa, a region least represented both at the University and the US, finding a community to call my own was not always easy; needless to say, having a considerable population on campus does not automatically guarantee a support community. However, making friends and volunteering for the causes of others, such as those who experience social injustice and individual prejudiced, provided me with an enormous source of comfort, sense of solidarity, and an opportunity to learn coupe up mechanisms that could be applied to my particular situations.

One example: I get such support from the place I least expected was Muslim students “Friday Prayer” (Salāt Al-Jumu'ah) congregation. Even though I was not a follower of the religion, the friendships and the stories I shared with them, especially the challenges of the community faced during the past political season had such a profound effect on my mental health and even for my academic success. As the old scripture says, “Help comes from unexpected places.”

Explore the resources on campus

The University of Michigan is committed to advancing the mental health and wellbeing of its students. If you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed, depressed, and/or in need of support, services are available. (Paul Conway, SI 678)

This text is an excerpt from one of the most exciting and challenging courses I took, with an 18-pages-long syllabus, under a title, “Student Mental Health and Wellbeing.” Mental health problems could have different sources including physiological, psychological, substance abuse, sociocultural, academic, linguistic, financial and the like. Here is another example from my story on how such holistic approach worked for me.

In my very first year, following my 3 weeks hospitalization for an Anxiety Disorder/Panic Attack, I adopted an adorable emotional support dog (Bella) from the Humane Society of Huron Valley. Moving back to my off- campus house, the landlord refused to let me bring my dog, and I had to stay in a motel for 2 weeks which was far away from campus in the harsh Midwest Winter. Especially for a new-comer from the most tropic area of the globe, I had been stunned by the strange land already and suffered from a dread of relapsing for several weeks.

Long story short, the Student Legal Services stepped in and not only resolved, but also started processing to press charges. They would have followed through with the charges against my landlord had I not asked them to stop the process. I rather took a semester of leave of academic absence and go home to my family in Ethiopia. This was made possible with the generous support from the Rackham Graduate Student Emergency Funds, and Center for the Education of Women (CEW+), which supports all non-traditional students, regardless of gender identity. Another example of less popular but essential resources resource for international students could be the International Student Lunch Conversation which is cosponsored by Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)My honorable mention includes: The Wellness Zone, Sleep Disorders Centers, and Mental Health Work Group - University of Michigan(MHWG).

In closing, the moral of my stories is that, even though I am a believer in human agency or the notion of personal responsibility in shaping one's own world, I have learned to appreciate more the support I have had from families, friends, mentors, institutions, and even strangers to emerge from my psychological problems I have struggled with for years. I wouldn’t be able to tell my stories today if it was not for the help of the individuals and communities that were instrumental in transforming my unfortunate circumstances to a happy ending. So, my advice for my fellow international students is, it has never be wise to fight a battle only on your own--especially while you have a range resource at your disposal not only to survive but also to thrive at U of M.

True psychological wellbeing is an ongoing, ever changing process that is unique for each individual. (CAPS)

Written by Simeneh Gebremariam
International Center Summer Orientation Peer Adviser
Graduate Student

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Prepare for the Unpreparedness

This time last year, I was getting ready to leave China to pursue graduate study at the University of Michigan.  I felt fully prepared and optimistic about turning over a new leaf in my life. What happened to me next is worth sharing with the newcomers to help them prepare for unexpected events that might lie ahead. 

In order to make sure I had enough time to settle into my new life in America I bought plane tickets to arrive in the States a couple of weeks before the semester started. While embracing the excitement of a new beginning, I found myself waking up one morning unable to hear out of my right ear. It was a small cold that was caused by a combination of different factors, such as jet lag, lack of sleep, a change of environment and a new diet. If I was still in my home country I could easily get it taken care of. However, this time it was different, because I was in the United States and did not have medical insurance.

Unfortunately, the medical insurance provided by the school was not effective until the program start date on the I-20. I had to go to a couple of community clinics to get treated. Without prior experience and few people to consult I end up paying over 200 USD, including a visit to the emergency room. I also talked to some of my friends in the medical field in China, and none of them were able to give me a ready-made panacea. I never expected to miss the conveniences of China so much and I became more and more anxious every day. I was even considering to fly back home and seek treatment.
I took some over the counter medicines before I was able to be treated at the UHS (University Health Service). During my appointment I was relieved to hear that my temporary deafness was merely caused by a sinus infection. It was such a prudent decision to not fly back to get treated. 

Reflecting on what happened, here are a couple lessons I learned from this experience that I would like to share with incoming international students:

First and foremost, if you plan to come to the States a bit earlier, figure out a way to make sure you are covered medically, such as purchase travel insurance. This may also apply to your visiting friends and relatives. Seeing a doctor without medical insurance in the States is outrageously expensive. Sadly, I am not the only person who has had the misfortune of this situation. Most travel agencies or insurance companies, either from China or the United States, provide short-term overseas medical insurance coverage. Do not take things for granted and do not take unnecessary risks.

Be more proactive getting aid. People here are very nice and resourceful, but if you do not express what you need, they cannot help you. Reach out to school staff. With their rich experience and knowledge regarding the local system, they will be able to provide you with great advice. In my case, shortly after semester started, I met with my academic advisor, Corey Sampsel, and explained my situation. He was one of the most helpful staff I met at school. He was not only a fantastic listener, but also provided me advice regarding getting financial aid if I needed.

Lastly, reach out to International Center's Health Insurance office to see an insurance adviser, either during its walk-in hours or send an email to

Overall, living in the United States is very different from living in your home country. Being an international student, no matter how well you prepare yourself there will always be instances when things do not go as planned. Expect the unexpected. There are always more solutions than problems.

Written by Guiqiu Wang
International Center Summer Orientation Peer Adviser
Graduate Student from P.R. China
Ford School of Public Policy

Monday, July 16, 2018

(Cheaply) Furnishing Your Apartment

A task that every international student must finish sooner than later is furnishing their room/apartment post arrival. Your new home is where you would get to withdraw from the chaos of school and would expect to have a good night’s sleep. Given that basic furnishing (such as a bed, a study table, kitchenware, and bathroom supplies) is essential for a comfortable time at home, it is a matter of concern for many of us with a tight budget. You will be relieved to know that frugally and wisely furnishing your apartment is not too difficult.

Looking for NEW furniture?
For those wanting to buy new furniture, IKEA is one of the popular options. While just visiting IKEA is an experience that many look forward to, it is also where you could get the most comprehensive range of furniture and kitchenware. From beds, futons, rugs, fairy lights, bathroom supplies, decor items, study table and chair to the cheapest available kitchenware, you will find it all. Remember that IKEA furniture requires assembly, which is tedious but is certainly worth a one-time DIY experience (you have the option to hire help for assembly).

Other options for buying less expensive but new furniture include the Mainstays collection at Walmart and Target’s Back to College collection. Lastly, Amazon is always an option but is less reliable as you cannot assess the product quality before purchasing. For more expensive furniture, look at Wayfair and Art Van.

Don’t mind USED furniture?
There are multiple options for those who do not mind reusing used furniture. Some of the options to seek and purchase used furniture include Facebook marketplace groups, Craigslist, and The Salvation Army store. Some commonly used Facebook groups include Free & For Sale, Free & For Sale (Official), Wolverine Women's Free and For Sale, and Maize Market (Tickets, Textbooks, and other Student Exchange). There is a surge of sellers towards the end of school year when new graduates are in the process of relocating. Usually, most sellers require you to pick up the furniture within a few days of posting so a week before you arrive at school would be a good time to browse new posts on the group. Craigslist is another great platform to look for second hand furniture and sometimes you could get things for free, literally! It also has postings for “Garage Sale”, which is another place to seek used furniture - remember to carry cash.

Getting to & from stores
Browsing or buying furniture could be done online or by visiting the stores. The international center organizes a trip to IKEA at the beginning of the school year. Other ways to affordably make a trip to and from these places is to organize a carpool (check the rideshare Facebook group) or share a Lyft or Uber ride with friends and/or roommates.

Lastly, you will need a way to bring things home on your own or through the delivery services offered by several stores. You may ask a friend with a car or a truck to help you pick up the furniture if you do not wish to pay for home delivery. If you are OK driving, you may also rent a truck from U-HAUL or Home Depot, which again could be shared among your friends or roommates.

Sample furniture collection from IKEA (~$500)










While furnishing your apartment can be tiresome and frustrating at times, we hope that you find this information helpful and that you savor the experience of setting up a home away from home. Good luck for a great start in Ann Arbor!

Written by Shriti Raj
International Center Summer Orientation Peer Adviser 2018
School of Information PhD Student from India