Being a foreigner in another country, no matter how diverse and accepting, is always associated with cultural conflicts of different scope that arise in daily life. As a Tunisian student studying in the United States, I find it difficult to continue with my usual behavior and communication styles that are common in my home country. I constantly find myself in situations where people react strangely to the things I might do or say. Whether it is the perceived importance of religious beliefs and/or practices, the usual ways of approaching and talking to other people, or standing in line when waiting to be served – many mundane activities require adjusting to the common ways of doing things in the US. In some cases, getting accustomed to American ways is associated with conflicts which arise out of cultural differences. While I have had many experiences of cultural conflicts, here I will focus on this one time I was taking a quiz and asked a guy sitting to next to me for help with one question.
The situation took place during my first month studying in the US. We were taking a 10 question quiz with yes or now answers. While I was fairly well prepared for it, there was one question I had doubts about. Wanting to score a good grade I decided to turn to a student sitting next to me and ask what did he think had been the correct answer to that one question. The student appeared confused about me asking him this. He did not say anything precise and just turned away to continue working on his quiz. I felt offended by this reaction and jumped to conclusions that he did not like me and did not want to help me out. Such a realization was very unpleasant, considering that I was only adjusting to the new environment at the moment.
I did not plan on addressing this issue with the guy who refused to help me. However, he himself walked up to me after the class to clarify what has happened. He told me that it was not fair to assist each other during quizzes, and that he was honestly disarmed by my request. He asked me not to do this again. I was surprised to find out that American students do not help each other on tests and quizzes. At the same time, however, his tone did not express any hostility and has thus eased my concerns about not being liked and accepted by the classmates.
Back in Tunisia, it is common for students to help each other on tests whenever possible, and everyone is always happy to give a hint if they know the correct answer. Helping others and supporting people on your team is considered to be a good thing. In the US, however, people have different understanding of what does it mean to help others. I realize that passing a quiz translates into my grade, yet, I still do not see how getting help with one question I was unsure about is wrong. At the same time, I have learned my lesson from this conflict and have not asked for assistance on quizzes in the future.
The described case was not really a conflict, rather a misunderstanding. It did affect my feeling of self-worth at first and did cause some confusion for the student involved. Having talked to each other afterwards, we were able to eliminate the uncomfortable feelings. I suppose that this misunderstanding was resolved by clarifying the intentions and cultural norms. In the end, knowing about the cultural differences is the best way to avoid conflicts, even if you have to learn about them through unpleasant situations like the one I have been through.