The Other Side of the Coin: Studying Abroad in the U.S.

Rose Turuka is an international student double majoring in International Business and Marketing. She also is pursuing minors in French and Non-profit Administration.

What is your home country?

My home country is Tanzania, East Africa. Off the coast is a little island know as Zanzibar.


Studying here at Grand Valley happened out of luck actually. I was originally going to attend Western Michigan University or Michigan State University, but my best friend was going for a tour to Grand Valley State and dragged me with her. I got to take a day off and visit a new place, so I was up for it. As soon as I saw the campus, I fell in love. The rest is history.

My first time in the United States was in 2006. I came here for three months in the summer to visit my dad, who was here for studies since 2004. Of course, as soon as I landed, I was amazed and overwhelmed at the difference in landscape, culture, discipline and more. I did try to convince my mom to stay, very much… but that did not happen so I returned home after those three months. When I came here again in 2010, I was able to stay for school, and now I am here!

What were some things that surprised you about the US or GVSU?

Growing up back home, we believed America to be the land of gold.. literally! Mansions, Ferraris, yachts, expensive and luxurious things everywhere… and a great economy. After a while of being in America, I realized just how many misconceptions of the world I had. America is just like any other country: it has its ups and downs, there are expensive luxurious places and people who can afford it, and there are places where people have to survive day by day. Yes, it is very advanced in technology, but it is still a country like many others that encounter challenges everyday.


I was not sure what the school systems would be like in America, and frankly I had watched way too many movies that confused me about what to expect! I knew that the systems would be different so I had to prepare my mind for it.

Back home, a child is sent to kindergarten for three years. At the end of the third year, they take an exam that will move them forward to primary school if they pass. Primary school (known as middle school in America) is composed of first grade to seventh grade. At the end of seventh grade, students take a national exam that determines if they will be able to move up to secondary school (high school) or if they have to repeat seventh grade. Secondary school is comprised of Form I to Form IV (also knows as Freshmen to Seniors in the US) at the end of Form IV, students are once again required to take a national exam, kind of like the ACT’s here. That score determines the school they get into or if there are able to move up at all. This is the most important exam in your school career because if you fail this exam, you are not able to get into college, and would have to repeat you last year in secondary school once again.

After secondary school, students go to a two-year mandatory college where they decide what they would like to concentrate their studies on; Business, Arts or Science combination. After two years of completing Gen Eds, they move on to universities.

It is a slightly longer and excruciating process, but in the end it pays off, not that I’m complaining. It took me a while to get used to the system, how things work, and calculators, which we do not get the privilege of using until college. Pretty crazy.

What are you are involved in? 

At GVSU, I am a pretty busy woman. I am very involved in multiple organizations including the African Student Council, where I serve as the Events Officer, the International Student Organization, where I hold the Cultural Board position, Ballroom Dance Club, and I work as a Study Abroad Peer Advisor with the Padnos International Center.

african student council

Being very involved on campus gives me a chance to constantly meet new people, establish connections, and build relationships. With this, I have been able to strengthen my skills both professional and social and discover my weaknesses and working towards improving them. It is great to be involved, and that is one of the main reasons I am happy I got the chance to experience while I am here.

What do you like most about GVSU or what have been some of your best experiences?

Some of my best experiences in GVSU have been to see the cultural awareness in process. We have a variety of cultural organizations in campus that have so much to offer and the differences in the way we live and how we discipline ourselves is astounding.

The little words, phrases, and meanings I discover everyday has been a lot of fun. There are so many different ways to interpret words and learning that the hard way is not fun. I sometimes wish there was a guidebook that tells you that a “hot dog” is not a literally cooked dog but a sausage on a bun. But it’s a learning experience.

What do you hope that students at GVSU can learn about your culture or home country?

The number one thing would be to note that Africa is not a country but a continent; it has more than 40 countries in it. Although these countries share a continent, they are very different, from the food to culture to their way of life. So to assume that being African, we are all loud and eat jollof rice is to basically say that since one is American, they must all have southern accents… or something like that.

That has been one of the main struggles in my time here at GVSU. It is so easy for people to categorize and place one another in a box according to assumptions without taking the time to know who you are as an individual.

Why do you think study abroad & international experiences are important?

There is nothing that prepares you for an independent life like the experiences you receive as you study abroad or as an international student.

It’s frustrating and at times you will feel like giving up, but those are the moments that count the most because in those moments you learn to toughen up, learn new skills, meet new people, and learn different histories of different parts of the world. You meet people with different perspectives, some that you agree with and some that don’t. You make friends and enemies, might meet potential life partners or mentors, and the list carries on.

The greatest of them all in my opinion is the appreciation of your home and culture once you have been introduced to other parts of the world. When I got here and after a little time in America, I began to appreciate my culture, which was the foundation of my life, so much more than I did before. The discipline instilled in me that I never really knew the importance of back then, the FOOD, the songs, stories, environment, WEATHER (snow is killing me slowly), people, and family.

It’s true when they say home will always be home, but that allows us to explore the world knowing that our country or culture will always hold a special place in our heart. So it is okay for us to travel the word and widen our knowledge and horizons because it can only ever help us in ways that we might never think of.

So don’t be scared to get outside your comfort zone and travel to a new area you are not familiar with because the only way we grow is by learning things that we don’t know and how to adapt to them. In our comfortable bubbles, we know everything we have to know, but is it all we need to know?

Study abroad and find out. Trust me, you will not be disappointed if you take the time to find the perfect study abroad fit for you.

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