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My Culture Shock as a Nigerian in an American College

Since I was a little girl, Western culture has been deeply rooted in most things that I did. From television to school, I always had a connection to the West. When my parents and I decided that the United States was the best place to come to college, I wasn’t terrified because I had seen aspects of American college life. I’d also watched many YouTube videos and streamed many American shows based on American college culture. I thought that I was more than prepared to go to college in the US—I was very wrong. 

My first cultural shock was fashion. In U.S. colleges, there’s a lot of individualism in how people dress. From my observations, most people don’t care about color matching and the occasion they’re dressed up for. As long as it reflects a part of their personality and it’s comfortable, they’re fine. Back in Nigeria, we’re taught that clothes hold a huge significance to how you want to be viewed. If you want to be respected, dress like it. If you want to have fun, you dress that way. People dress to create an image of themselves instead of reflecting their individuality. 

Still talking about fashion, there’s a weird trend about dirty sneakers in college. When my sneaker soles had some light brown stains, I didn’t wear them until they were clean. However, people in America feel very comfortable wearing crummy sneakers or even shoes with holes in them. That, my friend, is not a trend I hope to hop on. 

Back home, the easiest way to be labeled as a very disrespectful person is by calling older people by their first names. You can imagine how astonished I was when I heard people call their professors by their first names. What surprised me, even more, was the casual, easy-going smile the professors gave to these calls. I doubt this is something I will ever get used to because I’d always seen this as an atrocity. 

If the food here doesn’t drive me crazy, the standard system definitely will. Who knew telling the weather could be so difficult? My first week at Mount Holyoke, my roommate and I had gone to Late Night to snag some fries and mozzarella sticks. As I snuggled my hoodie tightly to my body, I asked her how cold it was. “52 degrees,” She responded. 52 degrees?! I told her she needed to update her weather app because it was glitching. If it was 52 degrees we would be leaving puddles of sweat everywhere we went. My roommate looked at me, confused, “Diamond, 52 degrees Fahrenheit is cold!” Fahrenheit: that was why I was almost losing my mind. I was so used to hearing the weather in Celsius, I forgot Fahrenheit existed. Maybe the world would be a better place if we all used the same system. 

Americans are very open people, and it is something I am still trying to adapt to. I meet people for the first time, and they’re informing me about their estranged relationship with their parents. I am utterly shocked every time people spill such information. I try my best to hide my shock but, I am sure I do a terrible job because the conversation becomes very awkward. They barely know me. They don’t know if I can be trusted or if this conversation will evolve into a friendship. Yet they’re very comfortable sharing details about their lives that I feel only close friends should know. I love that confidence but, the Nigerian in me will not let me emulate it. 

Aside from the discomfort of familiarizing myself with a new culture, I love these culture shocks. They are slowly making my college experience. They will be the things I can think of and laugh about someday. I’m happy I get to taste two different cultures, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. 

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Hi there! I am a Mount Holyoke student who is an ABBA enthusiast. I love binge-watching multiple shows, eating cereal, and scrolling through Tiktok. I hope to have a collection of ABBA, The Beatles, and Queen merch before I am 21. I also consider myself to be a very funny Nigerian feminist.
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