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Calming culture shock with tea

International Tea Time provides a casual opportunity for international and American students to get to know one another. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published June 20, 2013

“International and U.S. students have a lot they can teach each other.”
Elena Yakunina, psychologist
Counseling Services

Two years ago, Manish Kulkarni arrived in the United States to study business at UB, and he describes every moment since he arrived as a roller coaster ride.

“The first thing I went through was culture shock,” says Kulkarni, who recently graduated from UB’s MBA program. “It took me two or three months to become adjusted to the American education system and culture.”

To help students like Kulkarni, UB’s Counseling Services searched for the missing link that could bring American and international students together. The answer: tea.

Every Thursday this summer, Counseling Services will hold International Tea Time, a casual event to provide a chance for American and international students to come together, relax and enjoy a cup of chamomile.

“International students often feel isolated,” says Elena Yakunina, a psychologist for Counseling Services, which assists students in resolving personal difficulties and serves as mental health consultants to the campus community. “They often can make friends with people from their own country, but have a harder time with Americans. We hope to change that.”

International Tea Time takes place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays in the Hadley Village Community Room the North Campus Along with Heweon Seo, also a psychologist for Counseling Services, Yakunina leads an afternoon of informal conversations about issues of culture and diversity that includes games and activities, and foods and teas from different cultures.

The event attracts a diverse group from UB’s large international student body, whose nationalities range from Korean to Venezuelan. Although their time spent in the U.S. varies, many students who attend tea time have only lived in the U.S. for a few months.

The small window is hardly enough time for students to adjust to the culture shock that accompanies study abroad. Everything from slang to mannerisms is a learning experience.

For Krishna Solasa, a mechanical engineering graduate student, the hardest part about adjusting to Buffalo was the weather. Originally from Hyderabad, India, where summer temperatures regularly rise to more than 100 degrees and winter temperatures rarely dip below 50 degrees, trudging through snow in a goose-down coat quickly became Solasa’s reality.

Yakunina and Seo see International Tea Time as the place where a foreign student can pick up something as simple as winter clothing advice. They believe small tips such as these will help international students feel more at home at UB.

“International and U.S. students have a lot they can teach each other,” says Yakunina. “International students can share their diverse and rich experiences, and their American peers can share parts of American culture that aren’t learned in the classroom. We hope Tea Time becomes a place for cross-cultural friendship, conversation and fun.”