“What’s up?” “Um… I… don’t have anything special, just going to class and having to do some homework and… I mean there is nothing special or important that I feel I should share with you, you know…?”
If you have had a conversation like the one above with a student on campus, you probably met an exchange student who is unfamiliar with the American notion of “What’s up?”, not necessarily asking you what really you’ve been up to, but just saying hello.
In the middle of the fourth week of the semester, we had the opportunity to interview six of the exchange students attending Binghamton University for the fall 2015 term: Heleen Ettes (English major) from Utrecht University, the Netherlands; Junyan Gao (Psychology major) from Soochow University, China; Luke Hale (Chemistry major) from Murdoch University, Australia; Laurenz Rosemann (Mechanical Engineering major) from Hamburg University, Germany; Joon Hyung (Brad) Kim (Business Administration major) from Korea University Business School, South Korea; and Yuchen (Winters) Huo (Finance major) from Lancaster University, United Kingdom
Q) What made you decide to study in the United States?
I really love being in this melting pot!
Laurenz “As an engineering major, I wanted to learn how the engineering programs are taught in the U.S. and what kinds of research are being conducted specifically in Binghamton University.”
Brad “I wanted to improve my English language skills and thought spending a semester in the U.S. would provide me with lots of opportunities which I wouldn’t be able to have if I stayed in Korea. I actually plan to stay in the U.S. after I finish my undergraduate study.”
Winters “As a Chinese living in the U.K., I wanted to experience something different. Studying abroad in the U.S., I thought, would let me experience different cultures.”
Luke “I just wanted to taste the American culture. In Australia, the majority of people speak only English but here, you can actually communicate with others even if you speak another language.”
Heleen “I’ve always dreamed of coming to the U.S. to experience the life in a multicultural setting. I really love being in this melting pot!”
Q) What were your initial perceptions of the U.S. and Binghamton? How have these changed after spending a few weeks here?
Heleen & Luke “I thought the U.S. would be similar to my home country, but little things in daily life like using a differen metric system, reading temperature in Fahrenheit, and driving on the right side are difficult to adjust to.”
Laurenz “I thought the U.S. would be a completely different world from Germany; however, I find a lot more similarities than differences here, which surprise me sometimes.”
Junyan “The bus system is really different from that in China. I never expected to wait at least 30 minutes for a bus.”
Brad & Winters “I thought the entire New York State would be like New York City, and realized I was certainly wrong as soon as I arrived in Binghamton.”
Q) What is one thing you would want your American friends to know about your home country?
I don’t have a kangaroo in my backyard…
Junyan “Food, definitely – I noticed that American students typically eat unhealthy, greasy food and snacks. I’d like to introduce to them the healthy food and snacks that are easily found in my hometown in China.”
Heleen “Unlike the usual perception that the Netherlands is static and monotonous, it has a lot of dynamics and diversity. “
Luke “I don’t have a kangaroo in my backyard, or eat it for every dinner… I need to get out of my town and drive a long way to get to a restaurant that actually sells dishes that have it.”
Laurenz “Germans are not boring people. Actually, we can be fun people.”
Brad “I want to introduce K-pop to my friends here, though, everyone I’ve met seemed to know and like K-pop already.”
Winters “I’d like to introduce the unique British drinking culture to my American friends.”
Q) Do you notice any difference in the way English is spoken here?
How should I answer back to questions like “How are you?” or “What’s up?”
Winters “Yes, I do. The American accent sounds awkward to me.”
Luke, Winters & Heleen “The spellings of some words are hard to remember, like color.”
Laurenz “I often don’t understand small talks. The conversation I’d have with a cashier at a supermarket is really different from the one I’d have with my classmates. I sometimes don’t understand the subject of the conversation they’d bring up, so I’d just stand there and listen, though, I don’t understand what’s really going on.”
Junyan “A lot of Americans I’ve met spoke too fast…”
Luke & Winters “Americans pronounce “r” too heavily, you know what I mean? It’s not that I don’t pronounce “r” at all – I surely do recognize that “r” is there – but I don’t stress it as much as Americans do.”
Everyone “How should I answer back to questions like “How are you?” or “What’s up?” Am I obligated to really give an answer to these questions…? Or are these even questions? It’s like a stranger walks up to me and asks “Hi, how are you?” and then just walks away without even looking back to me. I still haven’t figured out how to react to these questions or greetings or whatever these are…”
(Stay tuned for Part II of the interview!)