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Students Speak: "International Students in the U.S. - Misconception vs. Reality"

This week's guest student post comes from Lei Wu, an international student studying at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Lei looks at some of the popular misconceptions international students - including himself - have about studying in the United States, and how these beliefs can be far from the truth:

As a Chinese student, I heard of a lot of things about the US from Chinese media before I came to America. Nevertheless, when I started my studying here, I found that a lot of things are different from that what I thought I knew. In my opinion, I feel that there are many misconceptions or stereotypes about the US, whether they come from foreign governments, movies, TV shows, or other channels. I now see international students coming to the US may misunderstand the real "American style." In this post, I’d like to pick up a few of these misconceptions and discuss them:

Misconception No. 1: US students don’t study hard or work hard:
This misconception is perhaps the most well-known among international students. Many think American students do not like studying, and that they only want to play sports or go to parties.

Perhaps some US students are not interested in learning, but there are a large number of American students who study very hard. At University of Nevada, Reno, I see many young American working on assignments in the library, designing experiment s in labs, working on problems in the classroom, or working overnight on important projects. So it is not fair that people judge American students as not studying hard – I’ve seen first-hand that they do.

I don't know why this rumor has been spread so worldwide – maybe it’s how American students are portrayed in movies and television. One of my American friends told me that American usually like cozy and casual, so they may give foreigners an image that they are not caution and dedicated. But this doesn’t mean they can’t be serious and achieve success.

Misconception No. 2: American people are not smart:
First, we have to define “smart,” which isn’t easy. Some students are good at math, some of them are good at art, but can you say the former are smarter than the latter? I don’t think it’s possible.

I am the only international student in my class, so I study with American students every day. In my experience, they are no more or less intelligent than any foreign students. In class, I see my classmates spark excellent ideas all the time that I never come up with.

I talked about this misconception with other international students before. They thought that this view may come from grades – that, to some extent, international students may get better score than American ones. But, as some of my fellow international students noted, higher scores does not always mean smarter.

For example, one of my fellow international students said that he often got high grades on tests compared to his American classmates, because he already knew some of the material from middle and high school. But despite the grade difference, he’s found that the American students he’s worked with have better perspective and methods for projects than he does. The American education system is different from other countries; consequently, American and international students have their own advantages and own skill sets that make them good students. But that doesn’t mean one group is smarter than the other.

Misconception No. 3: US society is dangerous
: Personally, I think this misconception comes from American entertainment media. Movies, TV dramas, and even some American animation have created an interesting picture of US environment, full of violence, crimes, guns, drug, gangs, and so forth.

Indeed, these things may happen, however, they are very exaggerated. For example, guns: there is a rough estimation that there are 233,000,000 guns in the US, but the ratio of gun crimes to guns is about 1:200,000, which means that the chance that you will encounter a gun crime is even lower than the chance of catching a cold.

Guns is just one of many examples. Generally, the US is a safe place. There is an infamous rumor that you do not want to walk down the street alone at night because you will be robbed or killed. When I arrived in US, I believed that. But some friends told me that it is a ridiculous thought – they often walk alone at night, they have never encountered any danger.

Of course, no country is absolutely secure, and crime and other incidents exist in every place all around the world. But the US media are so sophisticated, any negative event in the society is covered in detail and published around the world, causing people to think of the US as unsafe. As far as I am concerned, if you are careful and aware, you will avoid any danger.
These misconceptions are only the tip of the iceberg. But I hope they correct some common mistakes when thinking about the United States, and help show a better picture of how the US really is.