International Students Learn American Culture at Black Hills State University

What does it take to go live abroad? What does it feel like to leave your family and travel around the world to study at Black Hills State University? What challenges do international students have to overcome in order to become part of the community?

Some people are used to traveling, taking guided tours, and exploring different cultures, but it can be challenging to leave one’s family and country to come to Spearfish, S.D. A new environment, culture shock, and language barriers are just a few obstacles of living abroad.

Difficulties can start while still in the home country. Students have to fill out a lot of applications, go through interviews, and have their visa approved. They have to decide where they are going to stay — either in the university’s residence halls, or a place of their own. Most of them decide to pay more and stay at the residence halls and get a food plan.

Settling down is a huge process. Not only do students have to face quickly changing weather, but altitude too. They might experience headaches, constant thirst, or jet-lag. They don’t know the city yet — someone has to show them around.

Karin Humar from Slovenia is one of the international students who started at BHSU as a temporary student but then decided to stay permanently last year. Her decision to leave her home country and travel abroad started when she met an American trainer in Germany who inspired her to travel. She said her first impression of Spearfish wasn’t shocking at all — the nature and venue reminded her of home. She said that people are more open and friendly so she felt that she needed to become more open and grateful for things that came her way.

Humar’s decision to stay in Spearfish as a regular student was based, in part, on the content of her classes and her relationship with her professors. She said she felt that BHSU enabled growth and development of her professional passions. She plans to stay in Spearfish and away from her family for a longer time, but even so far away from them, she said she feels their support and faith to follow her dreams.

In order to help international students acclimate, the BHSU International Student office does orientation days just before a new semester starts. Students are introduced to a few professors and tour the university buildings. Volunteers take the new students to a local bank to open accounts and to the supermarket to buy groceries. International students are encouraged to exercise in the university’s Young Center or take walks and explore the area to become more familiar with their new surroundings. The orientation gives the new-comers more confidence and encouragement to be happy and enjoy the experience.

There are many opportunities that can help international students adjust in a new place. Students who attend community events and participate feel more welcome and part of community. Moreover, it allows them to learn more about different cultures, people, customs, and languages. BHSU encourages international students to start volunteering or be involved in campus activities.

Finding new friends is also important. People who listen and try to help are necessary in everyone’s lives. Sometimes it is hard to find new friends because of cultural differences and language barriers, but students shouldn’t be shy. Some domestic students are very interested in learning about other cultures. Spearfish is known as an international-friendly town.

So, what does it take to live abroad?

As Humar said, “There’s never a perfect time to go abroad. You can never be ready enough. You just have to believe that things will turn out the way they are supposed to. We regret in our lives the things we didn’t do more than the things we did.”