Pet Peeves of an International Student

Being an international student can be hard. You have the usual nonsense of long flights, leaving home, studying abroad, visas and other frustrating documents. But let’s be honest – you have been prepared for all this (somewhat). What you haven’t been prepared for, however, are the smaller (but nonetheless important) things: American lingo, no metric system, weird spellings. And believe me, these can all be a lot harder to handle.

This post catalogues some of my experiences as an international student that you might (or might not) relate to. Either way, I hope you’ll be left amused.

1. (Not so) fun CS projects.

My state of mind, courtesy of CS15.

Before coming to Brown, I though taking a CS course might be fun. I was wrong. CS15 did not involve fun. It involved struggles. It involved long TA lines. It involved relocating from my dorm to the CIT. One particular assignment, namely Litebrite, involved a fair amount of frustration. I remember how for the longest time, my code for this project simply refused to compile. I spent ages – hours, days – (it felt like years) – trying to figure out what I had done wrong. Frustration levels peaked when I realised my ‘error’ was spelling “colour” with a “u”, when it had been spelt without a ‘u’ in the support code.

Side note: CS15 was dropped soon after. (On the bright side, I did earn practically 10 hours of my time back. Per day.)

Worries of the past.

2. Awkward Conversations Ft. American Lingo:

i) Scenes at Best-Buy:

Me: “Hi, I’m looking for a torch.”

Salesman:“A what?”

Me: “A torch.”


Salesman: “Sorry?”

*exchange continues for a good 30 seconds*

Salesman: “Ohhh, you mean a flashlight…”

What Best-Buy salesman thinks I want vs. what I actually want.

ii) Cross cultural fascination

Friend 1: Do you really call the bathroom the “loo”?

Me: Sometimes, yeah.
Friend 2: And the trash-can a *bin*???
Me: Oh, haha, yeah. *cue awkward laughter*

Friend 3: And spell ‘hono(u)r’ with a ‘u’!?

Me: Um. Yes.

My interrogation.

iii) Weird small talk

I learned in my first two weeks that the go-to question to ask every freshman is “what are you considering concentrating in?” However, I must warn you, even this seemingly innocent conversation starter can have some awkward repercussions.

Random person trying to engage in small-talk: “So, what do you think you’re going to concentrate in?”
Me: “Well, I’m not sure – potentially Maths.”
Random person: “Oh, what’s that?”

Me (confused): “Maths?”

Random person: “Yeah..?”

Me (tries a louder voice): “Maths?”
*Louder voice does not help.*
Random person: “Sorry, I don’t know what this is.”
Me (last resort): “Uh, Mathematics?”
Random person: “Oh! Math! Sorry, I couldn’t understand because you pluralised it.” (PS: No, I’m not trying to make a point by using the ’s’ instead of a ‘z’ in ‘pluralised’.)

Future answer to the “What is Math(s)?” question.

3. No metric system (sad face)

Okay, I’ll be frank. I can handle miles, inches, acres, feet. Occasionally, I can deal with yards. Sometimes even pints. (Yes, I know I’m picky – just deal with it.) But what I can not, simply can not handle, is the F-word. (Sure, call me conventional.) I will have you know that this insidious word has led to some serious misunderstandings. For instance:

Roommate: Woah, the weather’s mad today! It goes to like 38*!
Me (thinks 38* Celsius): Oh wow! That is really insane!
*Takes out a pair of shorts, sleeveless t-shirt, considers putting on sunscreen. (Roommate thinks I’m crazy.)
*Leaves the room.
*Steps outside.
*Rushes back in.
(Roommate thinks I’m crazier.)

Poster I saw online that I seriously considered buying.

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