Nodirjon Siddikov was expecting many things when he came to Rochester, New York, as part of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program in 2009, but a vibrant food culture was not one of them. So when he visited a family near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to celebrate Thanksgiving, he was startled by the variety of food and shared tradition.
“The family was welcoming and easygoing, and they asked questions about me and my culture,” says Nodirjon. “Until then, I had the impression that the only thing Americans ate was burgers and soda. I was surprised to see that they have a wide array of foods on their holiday menu.”
Food and culture were not the only surprises. While studying computer science at the Rochester Institute of Technology Nordijan admits he struggled to adapt to the American educational system. He credits teamwork and class projects with helping him to become a better student.
“The pace of studies is super fast,” says Nodirjon. “But I am now more aware of academic dishonesty policies, the importance of interacting with faculty members, and setting career objectives while studying at school. I now start to think ‘outside of the box,’ approach problems from different angles, and communicate with people more openly.”
Staying motivated in his studies helped Nodirjon become more independent, a value he appreciated in the American students he met, particularly those responsible for financing their own education.
“Parents [in America] expect their children to leave the house and start their own life once they finish college. This was an unusual finding for me, because in my culture, at least one of the children is expected to live with his or her parents to take care of them,” he says. “Later, I realized that the American attitude pays off, because children are more successful at dealing with real life problems on their own.”
“Here in the U.S., people always have a plan in their mind - whether it’s a study plan or payment plan,” Nodirjon said. He encouraged other Fulbright applicants to likewise plan ahead.
Because of the program, Nodirjon believes he’s more likely to go after what he wants in life—and he hopes other foreign students adopt this mindset to adjust to their time in the United States. Nodirjon says Fulbright has instilled open-mindedness and persistence in him and he encourages other international students to get out of their comfort zone in order to discover American culture both at home and in the classroom.
“You will only learn about a new culture by getting involved with local people,” he said.