The Culture Shock Of Going To College

Opinion by: Olivia R.

Edited by: Kody T.

Visual by: Suman P.

Compared to the rest of the Philippines, ISM is very Westernized; our values and culture are closer to Western countries than most Filipino high schools. When I moved here from a local religious school, I was in a constant state of shock at how liberal the community here was. Dating openly, being supportive of the LGBTQA+ community, and even wearing shorts to school were entirely new concepts to me. I thought I had transferred to one of the most liberal places in the world. But last school year, when I spoke to a classmate that grew up in the USA, he said, “When I moved here, I realized: man, this is Asia.” Unlike me, he found ISM conservative and stifling and, given that he was from the USA, I began to wonder if students transferring from ISM to college would experience a similar culture shock to mine.

Part of the culture shock I experienced when I moved schools was because of the ideals of my previous school; dating was entirely prohibited, our uniforms consisted of loose, ill-fitting shirts and scratchy pants, and when a teacher entered our classroom, we were expected to stop and bow in greeting. Naturally, in my first few weeks at ISM, I could barely contain my shock. (Seeing students holding hands in school was nearly enough to give me a heart attack- I wondered if their parents and teachers condoned this “rebellious” behavior.) One day, however, I heard a teacher say that ISM kids were some of the most respectful, hardworking kids he had had the pleasure of teaching. While I was shocked by their liberal behavior, I had to agree that most students treated their teachers with respect.

The truth is, ISM has a predominantly Asian culture– for most of the students, schoolwork comes first. It is very common for a student tell their friends that they can’t go to a party over the weekend because they have to study. Kids are pressured to have good grades: they meet outside school to study, have tutors, and don’t hesitate to ask teachers for clarification. In addition to this pressure to perform well academically, ISM has a tight-knit community. To quote a friend, “As soon as you do something, the whole school knows,” which has led many students to care for their reputation. In college, most students don’t care about anyone else’s GPA or reputations, which makes me wonder if students will be able to handle their newfound independence.

An alumnus once told me: “I don’t know how [my college classmates] found the time to cook, clean, maintain their grades, hobbies, and social life without losing sleep.” Living in the Philippines means that, for most of the student population, whose biggest responsibility is to study, household chores are taken care of by helpers; we;’re used to privileges that most students worldwide don’t have. Because of this, many students have no knowledge of cleaning up or managing our time around chores (not to mention cooking!). When faced with the challenges of virtually living alone, adapting to a new culture, and maintaining their grades, high school kids from ISM have a lot to adjust to. Furthermore, the stress to fit into a new culture and college may make us more susceptible to peer pressure: according to the aforementioned alumnus, “Peer pressure is a big thing too, especially for international students.”

My advice to the incoming college freshmen? Learn to manage your time, stay open minded, and above all, never do anything you’re uncomfortable doing, even if your friends want you to.