San Jose State was a significant adjustment for someone who grew up in a community where Latinos were the minority. While my hometown was still a fairly diverse city, the school environment consisted mainly of white and Asian people.
The other Latinos in my area were first-generation children, and I couldn’t relate to many of their experiences because I’m second-generation on both sides of my family. It was much harder for me to find people I could relate to or connect with, and moving to San Jose was an opportunity for me to explore that.
I never really thought about what it was like to experience culture shock until I was dealing with it firsthand. I cannot describe what it was like to see so many people who looked like me walking around campus, let alone how there were more than five Latinos in each of my classes (something that wasn’t normal in my high school).
Even though I met so many new people during the first month of school, I still felt out of place in my own skin. I took a Chicano Studies class because it satisfied my GE and also to learn a little more about the history of the Chicanx community and the culture.
Many of the students were first-generation, immigrated when they were younger, or seemed to be more in touch with the culture than I was. I felt like the way I dressed stood out a lot more than others, my pronunciation of certain Spanish words was not as good as theirs, and I wasn’t as close to my cousins because both sides of my family lived in different cities. I’m Mexican, and I know it, but I couldn’t help but feel almost like a poser.
My self-consciousness about how much of a “real” Mexican I am is already rocky to begin with. But I’ve had instances where strangers or people I’ve met assumed I was another race or ethnicity because I don’t “look,” “act,” or even “dress” the way Latinos do.
To add salt to an already open wound, even other Latinos wouldn’t think I was Latina unless I told them upfront. Even in San Jose, people look at me and question whether or not I am Latina.
I share traditions with my family that other Mexican families do, and I visit Mexico once a year, if not more. Spanish is my first language, and while I have trouble speaking as fluently as I used to, I can still understand and even hold a conversation with other Spanish-speaking people.
I’m lucky to have met other students on campus who can relate to what I’m feeling. Even understanding the frustration I deal with when people don’t believe I’m Latina after I tell them I am.
Before going to college, numerous people would share some of their experiences in college, talking about the social and academic aspects of it, what their professors were like, and what it was like to live on campus. You have this idea that college is supposed to be loads of fun and an easy adjustment once you find the right people.
Everyone else is going through the same thing as you; everyone else is trying to find their place, and we’re all just trying to get by. It’s been almost two months since school started, and I’m still struggling to figure that out.
However, I find that rather than defining it as a struggle, I’d describe it more as an adjustment to a new environment. An environment that will allow me to delve further into exploring more about who I am, challenging me in ways I never thought possible. And it has been a challenge. But I’m thrilled to see where my journey will take me. I’ll keep my arms open to welcome new opportunities that come my way.
What are your experiences with regard to ethnic and cultural shocks as you entered college? Let us know at @HerCampusSJSU.