As an international student, coping with homesickness has been something I’ve had to do frequently, even now as a senior graduate student. Culture shock has also been very present to many first-year international students, especially if they have never been outside of their home countries. Here, I will share some of the activities that several international students have said had helped them in feeling closer to their home countries and traditions while studying in the United States.
Ethnic grocery stores
Houston is a multicultural city. There are plenty of diverse ethnic grocery stores and restaurants that you can visit! The closest ethnic grocery store to Rice University is Fiesta, which has plenty of International foods and brands, especially Hispanic and South Asian foods. The Graduate Student Shopping Shuttle can drop you off and pick you up from Fiesta every Saturday morning. You can take this shopping shuttle from either Rice Graduate Apartments or Rice Village Apartments, making it a very convenient and safe way for new graduate students to get international ingredients that remind them of home. A quick Google search can lead you to the best ethnic grocery stores in Houston, including international students’ favorites such as H-Mart, Viet Hoa International Foods, La Michoacana Meat Market, among others.
International Graduate Student Associations
There are several cultural graduate student associations at Rice University you can reach out to and meet fellow grad students from your own country! Most of these international graduate student associations have monthly hangouts and host big events open to the Rice community to celebrate certain holidays, such as the Lunar New Year Festival and Diwali. The international graduate student associations also serve as a support and professional network for new grad students, since it helps to find a community you culturally identify with in a foreign country. Additionally, I would recommend participating and attending cultural events that are not from other international student associations so that you learn more about other cultures, meet new people, and show support! If you are unsure how to contact a specific international graduate student association, you can find them on OwlNest or contact the Graduate Student Association’s Officer of International Student Outreach.
The Office of International Students and Scholars is the best resource for information as an international student at Rice University. The friendly staff is always finding new ways to engage with international graduate students and make them feel welcomed in Houston. Every year they host plenty of events to celebrate cultural diversity and give you the chance to share your traditions and country with other people. Recently, one of their most popular online events has been the “My World” Tours, where a staff member or a student talk about their hometown and country, traditions, foods, and other interesting features. Participating in one of these events and sharing your culture can be a useful coping mechanism.
Be proud to show your culture to your friends!
Being in grad school in a foreign country might mean that your friend circle is very culturally diverse, but that does not mean that they can’t help you cope with homesickness. Some activities that I’ve been able to do with my friends to share my culture and traditions have been to organize potlucks where everyone brings a dish from their hometown. We have also been lucky to be able to go to restaurants or public events that show Latin American culture, and I always feel super excited when my friends ask me to explain more about certain foods or traditions. Sharing your culture will always bring you closer to it, even when you are miles away from your home country!
Embrace American holidays
As an international graduate student in the United States, you are going to get exposed to American holidays for the next couple of years. So, instead of dismissing them, try to make the best out them and include your own cultural touch! This way, the culture shock would be less, and it gives you even more opportunities to hang out with friends. One of my favorite American holidays that I’ve learned to adapt to my own culture is Thanksgiving. I have been very lucky to host a “Friendsgiving” last year, and it was an amazing experience. Besides eating the traditional American apple pie, my friends and I were able to bring dishes from our home countries.
Living in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language most of the day, and pursuing a graduate degree at the same time might be tough, but that does not mean you need to be lonely and culturally-isolated while doing this! Find your support network in the different international student associations, within your department, and with your friends to share your culture and feel closer to home.
About the author: Rosa Selenia Guerra Reséndez is a GCURS alum, a Fulbright-García Robles Doctoral Scholar and active member of the Latin American Graduate Student Association at Rice University. She is a third-year graduate student in the Systems, Synthetic and Physical Biology program, advised by Dr. Isaac Hilton, and in 2017 earned her B.S. in Genomic Biotechnology from Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León. Read more about Rosa here.