Culture Shock 2.0: Ridiculous Questions I’ve Been Asked as a Foreigner

I’ve been told that, as an international student, I am an ambassador for my country, an educator if you will. I accept both of these roles graciously, and I am always happy to share information and insights with anyone willing to listen.

However, I’ve been asked too many questions that border on ridiculous and negligent.  In an attempt to clear up some of the mystery surrounding my origins (And point and make fun of some of the more ridiculous questions), I will share some of the most common and ludicrous questions I’ve been asked.

Note: These are all real questions I’ve been asked by students in my three years here. Pinky promise.

Did you see lions on the way to school? Given the reputation for animal tourism that countries in Africa have attained, this is completely understandable (Just as I assume that kangaroos roam the streets of Australia, just hopping about). However, lions and other wildlife are often secluded to wild and rural areas. They tend to avoid people and occasionally will come into contact with farmers and their livestock (Cows tend to make delicious and easy prey). Next one.

Did you have a door? What? Firstly, this is so randomly specific I can’t even begin to understand what would lead someone to wonder about this. Maybe this person had their doors removed from their bedroom as some sort of punishment for bad behavior and, in their desolate and self-pitying state, their friends reassured them by telling them that kids in Africa grew up without doors all the time and turned out just fine. I digress, but seriously though, what? Yes, of course we had doors. And windows. And roofs. And EVEN FURNITURE!! Mind blowing, I know.

Are you two from the same tribe? This question was directed to me (Ethiopian) and one of my Nigerian teammates. The response to which was a blank stare and a somewhat gaped jaw. This question was asked in locker room after practice where banter and obscenities are thicker than the air. This question managed to elicit complete and utter silence. Perhaps the rest of them were just wondering the same thing. But alas, no. Our countries are separated by half the continent and thousands of miles.

Did you have an elephant? I’ll take blame when it is deserved. This question stemmed from a rumor that I (In my devious ways) had devised for my own amusement. It started off when I had a picture posted on facebook of me feeding an elephant. Someone then asked me if they ate a lot, and “whew, they must be expensive to feed”. Instead of taking my usual course and explaining some of the stereotypes of Africa aren’t necessarily always true, I decided that some fun was to be had out of this situation. So I named my elephant Rosie and always shared stories of how gentle and friendly she was, how she would always give me rides to far away villages and so on.

Disclaimer: I don’t actually have an elephant, and I didn’t live in a village.

Did you go to school in trees? This person obviously had some pretty weird misconceptions about the schooling system in Africa. I mean how impractical would it be to have to go to school in a tree? Would you have to walk (swing) to other classes? Would each class be on a different branch? If so, how many students could you fit onto a single branch? Logistics, man; there are just too many technical issues to figure out here.

Did you have to kill a lion when you were 13 to prove you were a man? I attribute this question to the commonly told story of the Maasai. The Maasai are a remote tribe in Kenya who are famous for their picturesque dressing and rites of passage. One of these rituals involves boys from the ages of 10-15 grouping up and hunting a male lion with only spears to prove their bravery and fearlessness. Fortunately (for the lion), I never endured such a test of my brittle.

How’d you speak English so good? Went to an international school, listened.

Doesn’t it take long to get home?  Yes, two 7 hour flights.

Are you Indian? I’m Ethiopian, but I can understand the confusion. Ethiopians have a distinct set of physical features that are atypical of  most of Africa (Barring Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti). These include but are not limited to: fairer complexions, high cheek bones, large foreheads, thin noses and large eyes.

Ethiopia in Map of Africa



33 International students on the most surprising things about America/Canada.

As an international student, the question ‘Where are you from?’ is often met with astonishment and surprise. Generally speaking, American students are very excited to learn about students from other countries and the quirks and eccentricities of their cultures. However, not many consider how foreign and bizarre American culture can appear to visiting foreigners. So for your education and entertainment, I have compiled a list of responses to the question, “What was the most surprising thing about America/Canada when you came here for school?”

  1. M . 22. Ukraine. Bathroom attendants.
  2. F. 21. Ukraine. That it is a financial strain to eat healthy.
  3. F. 19. Lebanon. Portion sizes.
  4. M. 24. Montenegro. Twerking*.
  5. M. 19. Ethiopia. The cold weather.
  6. M. 19. Scotland. Drive-thru pharmacies.
  7. F . 22. Finland. Lack of sidewalks.
  8. M. 24. Ghana. Racism.
  9. M. 22. Nigeria. Buffalo wings, what the hell is going on? Bagels and cream cheese, I loved it. Unlimited pizza. Ice machines.
  10. F. 23. Finland. The food is tasteless. Not enough hot guys.
  11. M. 24. Saudi Arabia. Four seasons.
  12. M. 18. Albania. The parties.
  13. M. 19. Zambia. The girls are crazy.
  14. F. 21. Myanmar. Competitive spirit.
  15. M.  22. Saudi Arabia. Girls wearing pajamas in class.
  16. M. 19. Argentina. So many different cultures.
  17. F. 23. Ethiopia. Seeing white people doing construction and janitorial jobs.
  18. M. 20. Tanzania. High cost of living, high multiculturalism, high Catholic religiosity, conservatism.
  19. F. 22. Kenya. Opportunities for people of all ages.
  20. F. 21. Gambia. People getting annoyed at calling fries, chips, calling soccer football and calling parking lots car parks.
  21. F. 24. Rwanda. Lack of privacy, lack of boundaries.
  22. M. 23. Kenya. Girls being harder to hook up with [Than they show in movies].
  23. M. 24. Finland. People dressed like bums in class. People being so polite.
  24. F. 22. Finland. There’s not that many fat people. People here are so nice.
  25. F. 24. Finland. Healthier food.
  26. M. 22. Egypt. Subway more prominent than McDonald’s.
  27. M. 21. Ghana. Cupcakes being 2/3rds frosting and 1/3 cupcake.
  28. F. 22. Kenya. The obsession with trends.
  29. F. 20. Kenya. Adjusting to the South’s slang and accent.
  30. M. 22. Kenya. The friendliness of the people.
  31. M. 22. Zimbabwe. The hotness of the women.
  32. F. 18. Eritrea. Everything is huge.
  33. M. 22. Zimbabwe. How relaxed everyone is in regards to drugs in Vancouver.

*By far, the most common response to this question was twerking. My personal response to this question would have been, like many above me (Removed for the sake of redundancy), twerking. Having grown up in a fairly Western household, and having visited the US twice before I came to university here, I was quiet familiar with American culture. However, the one phenomenon I had not been exposed to was twerking. For those that do not know what twerking is click on the hyper-linked text.

My first contact (Literally) with twerking came in the form of an abrupt collision. I was a freshman attending a fraternity party off-campus. There in that dim-light basement I made my way through the crowd of people only to be struck square in the thigh by a rogue shoulder. Astonished and bemused as to why a shoulder had hit me in the middle of my leg, I looked down to see a scantily dressed young woman engaging in the aforementioned act on another even more scantily dressed woman, who in turn was twerking on a rather pleased looking gentleman. I was dumbfounded by the level of efficiency displayed in such a depraved act. It was after collecting my lower jaw off the floor, I realized that I had just received my very own culture shock.


Black vs. White Cookie Eating Contest

Today I walked into North Hall and came across an interesting sight: There was a table set up in the lounge with a large amount of Oreo cookies. On one side of the table were two white students, and on the other side, two black students. It turned out that I had stumbled upon an event called “Black and White Fight” hosted by brothers of Phi Beta Sigma. It was an eating contest where the student who could finish all the Oreo cookies first would win $50. I stayed and watched as the competition began, and people in attendance began to cheer for their “color.”

The purpose of the event was to address the segregation that is sometimes seen on campus, not just between races, but also between sports teams and social clubs. After the Oreo eating contest, everyone got involved in a deep discussion about mental enslavement and how we naturally separate ourselves from people who are not like us. After the event, people commented on how they thought it was interesting and a great way to get people who do not normally interact to engage in something meaningful.

I also got to eat some Oreo cookies!



Shout out to Adalbert De La Cruz, and all the brothers of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.