International Success Stories

HHS students triumph over cultural differences, social hurdles and language barriers

Story by Heather Pflug, photos by Brian Powell

Most incoming first-year students at Purdue would admit they are somewhat apprehensive about what lies ahead. Will they make friends, will they be able to navigate the campus, how hard will their classes be, and will they be homesick? International students face these same worries plus a host of others. Will they understand English well enough, will the cultural differences be manageable and will they be accepted?

For the following four HHS students, coming to Purdue from a foreign country to study has been a rewarding experience, albeit not without a few obstacles along the way. They agreed to share their backgrounds and cultural differences, how they have adjusted to living and studying in the United States, how Purdue has enriched their lives and the excitement they have for their futures.

Ziyong Guo

Ziyong Guo, China

 “It wasn’t as hard as I expected,” says Guo, whose first language is Mandarin Chinese, of when he came to Purdue.

Educated at an international high school, he had many teachers from the United States, which he says gave him an advantage. He also says U.S.-based movies, music and video games helped him learn the language before arriving at Purdue. The thing he couldn’t prepare for, however, was all forms of American slang.

“People would say, ‘What’s up?’ when they would see me,” he says. “I thought they literally meant what is up. It took me a while to get used to this being a simple way to say hi.”

One of the most significant cultural differences for him has been the cuisine: “We eat a completely different style of food. I do enjoy food from all over the world, but I long for home food occasionally, too.”

Guo transferred from Krannert School of Management to HHS his junior year and is majoring in financial counseling and planning. He is confident that his education will give him an edge in his job search.

“Purdue is recognized by many companies and HR personnel,” he says. “I think that, along with all the knowledge I learned here, will help me to find a good job in the future.”


Giovana Teles

Giovana Teles, Brazil

Being misunderstood has been the biggest obstacle for Teles. “Brazilians are usually very straightforward, which can be misinterpreted as rude in America,” she says. “Many times, I found myself having to explain what I meant. It is frustrating. You think you are being friendly and respectful, but the other person is perceiving you differently.”

She also has had to adjust to Americans being more reserved and individualistic. “They are not used to hugging or displaying a lot of affection in public.” Being here, she also has learned that being on time is important. “I never realized how rude being late actually is. People back home are always late!”

Teles, whose native language is Portuguese, says her transition to college in the U.S. has been made smoother by her academic advisor and campus activities.

“HHS throws a lot of events for its students, which is great because it gives you the opportunity to network with the faculty and other students in our field.”

“I never realized how rude being late actually is. People back home are always late!”
- Giovana Teles

In her home country, coming to the U.S. for college is “not a very common route,” Teles says. “When I decided to apply to schools here, most people around me tried to talk me out of it, telling me that it was an unreachable dream.”

But Teles was not discouraged and will graduate in May with bachelor’s degrees in nutrition science and psychological sciences and minors in biological sciences and chemistry. She is an undergraduate research assistant in two labs on campus.

“I found my true passion here at Purdue. I love science and research,” she says. “I believe that if I had stayed at home, I would have probably ended up in another field. Today, I cannot imagine myself doing anything else. Purdue will give you all the tools to succeed. It is up to you to hold tight to them and use them in your favor.”


Assem Imangaliyeva

Assem Imangaliyeva, Kazakhstan

Imangaliyeva, whose primary languages are Kazakh and Russian, was raised in Kazakhstan but moved to Germany when she was 15, studying both German and English.

“When moving to America, I had some knowledge of English, but I wasn’t fluent. To be honest, I was afraid and shy to speak out or present myself to a big audience during my freshman year,” she says. “However, after the first year, my English dramatically improved, and I felt confident to talk to people more often and make new connections.”

When deciding about where to go to college, Imangaliyeva was adamant that she wanted to see the world and travel more. Purdue was one of the first schools to send her an acceptance letter, plus she had a friend who already was studying at Purdue and telling her wonderful stories about the school. Purdue basketball is well-known in Germany, she says, and friends expressed that they were impressed that she was going to be a Boilermaker.

A December 2017 environmental health sciences and occupational health science graduate, she credits HHS and Purdue in general, which gave her “an enormous amount of help,” as well as her academic advisors, for helping her adjust and pave a pathway to success.

"When moving to America, I had some knowledge of English, but I wasn’t fluent. To be honest, I was afraid and shy to speak out or present myself to a big audience during my freshman year."
- Assem Imangaliyeva

“I was able to figure out what I am passionate about,” she says. “They helped me with my journey.”

She also speaks highly of her time working in the research lab of Jonathan Shannahan, assistant professor of health sciences and toxicology, calling the experience “one of the biggest positive impacts I have received.”

She says her dream is to work for herself, “to be a person who raises awareness for leading a better life in terms of health. I would love to be a consultant for both fitness and nutrition.”

She credits Purdue for giving her the foundation, the direction and the confidence to go forth and welcome the future that awaits.

“This has been the most exciting and fun time. I will always remember the memories I built here. Purdue helped me grow as a person and open up.”


Hibatalla Fadul

Hibatalla Fadul, Sudan

Fadul found it hard to communicate with people when she arrived in the states. “In the beginning, language was a real obstacle,” she says, adding that people’s accents were difficult
to pick up.

Also, trying to familiarize herself with the various cultures represented on the campus was challenging.

“The Purdue community is huge, and there are lots of international students,” she says. “So, it was not just knowing the American culture, but also knowing the cultures of the people you encounter and engaging with them.”

Fresh off an intensive English program at Indiana University, where she obtained her student visa, she decided to transfer to Purdue. She initially struggled socially.

"In the beginning, language was a real obstacle."
- Hibatalla Fadul

“I did not have friends,” she says.

Vowing to change that, she started attending social events. Her chemistry teaching assistant reached out, asking her where she was from and engaging her in conversation.

“Then she invited me to an African get-together at her apartment complex,” she says. “It was a lot of fun, and I got to know and experience different cultures. This is how I made one of my best friends.”

Fadul, a public health major whose first language is Arabic, admits that Purdue is not well-known back home.

“Coming to the USA is hard because of financial and visa barriers,” she says. “It just so happened that I knew about Purdue because I have family members who studied here.”

Now a senior whose dream is to attend medical school, she feels upbeat about her future thanks to her top-notch education, an internship at Purdue’s A.H. Ismail Center — a fitness center and health, exercise and nutrition research facility — and her experience as a research assistant for three semesters.

“Purdue is a very good and respected school,” she says. “I am sure that obtaining my degree from Purdue will help me to successfully pursue graduate school.”

Read more about these students and other international students in the College of Health and Human Sciences at

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