Mahatma Ghandi said, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”
A variety of different cultures are held within those students who come from all over the world to attend BYU-Idaho.
According to the BYU-I International Student Services web page, there were 757 international students enrolled for Fall Semester 2013. One of these students, Joana Ribeiro, is a junior from Luxembourg studying communication.
Ribeiro came to the United States to begin school at BYU-Idaho in the Spring 2012 semester. She said she came so that she could be in a good atmosphere while attending college.
“I was tired of being mocked at school for not drinking and not being a fornicator,” Ribeiro said. “If people mock me in high school for these things, it’s going to be a lot worse being surrounded by other people. The older you get, the weirder it is for them that you’re not drinking and not having sex or those things. I was like ‘I don’t want that for myself,’ so I decided to come here and be in a Mormon surrounding.”
When Ribeiro is asked where she is from originally, she typically says, “This is always a complicated question.” She said that her nationality and passport are both Portuguese because her mother and ancestral heritage are from Portugal.
Ribeiro also said that she has never lived in Portugal, but has lived in the small country of Luxembourg her entire life. Because of this, Ribeiro said she claims both countries.
“Luxembourg is a small country wedged in between Belgium, Germany and France,” Ribeiro said.
Ribeiro said that she first visited the United States when she was 18 in April 2010 in order to attend General Conference.
Ribeiro said that prior to coming to the United States, she thought of hamburgers as the most common food when she thought of America.
She said she had also heard that Americans didn’t know their geography. After visiting the United States, Ribeiro said she found out both of these stereotypes were true for the most part.
Having now lived in America for a little over two years, Ribeiro said that there are a lot of cultural differences between the United States and Europe.
“Everything is bigger here,” Ribeiro said. “You have huge trucks, and then you have a ton of lanes on the freeway. We have two lanes on each side, and here you have like five.”
Ribeiro said she misses the food from back home because people in Luxembourg cook with a lot of olive oil and different spices.
She said that the flavor and proportions of food are very different in America.
“When you go eat, you come with your European mindset,” Ribeiro said. “People are like, ‘Do you want small, medium or large?’ You’re like, ‘Well, I’m kind of hungry, so large.’ Then you realize that [American] large is actually very, very, very large. Our large is like your guys’ small.”
What she has also noticed as a major difference in America is the people and the way they interact with each other.
She said that when she goes to a store here, employees greet her and actually seem like they want to help her. Ribeiro said if she wants help back home she has to go to the person in the store, and sometimes they just don’t feel like helping her.
“At home you’re not ser friendly with them when you meet them, but once you are friends with them, they’re your friends,” Ribeiro said. “You can tell them everything and it’s not shallow; it’s really deep friendship. Here it’s more everything on the surface.”
Ribeiro said that since enrolling in BYU-I she has visited Luxembourg several times and gone home for a cole of her off tracks. She said she always experiences culture shock and that going from place to place takes some getting used to.
“People are very friendly here,” Ribeiro said. “I would walk around campus and someone would be like, ‘Hey how are you doing?’ My first thought was, ‘I don’t know you. Get away from me.’ Then I was like, ‘Oh, wait. Oh, hey. Yeah, I’m good. How are you?’”
Ribeiro said that now it is easy for her to get used to the friendliness of people at BYU-Idaho. She said that when she goes back home she will smile and greet people while passing on the street, but they usually give her a weird look. Ribeiro said because it isn’t the social norm in Europe to greet strangers you don’t know.
The language barrier was one of the biggest challenges she faced when first coming to the United States, according to Ribeiro. She said she could understand English pretty well until someone would use a slang expression or quote a popular Disney movie.
Ribeiro speaks a total of six languages including English, Portuguese, Spanish, German, French and Luxembourgish.
She said Luxembourgish is a mix of both French and German.
She said that it includes some English words, but that the language sounds most like German when it is spoken.
Ribeiro said she is most comfortable speaking French than any other language.
Ribeiro said she and her mom converted to the Church when she was 10 or 11 years old. She said that since Luxembourg is so small, there is only one ward for the entire country.
Ribeiro also said that the ward takes in a little of France, Belgium and Germany. She said this makes home and visiting teaching hard because you might have to drive to another country in order to be able to do it.
Ribeiro is in her fourth semester as a tutor for the French speaking center on campus. She has also participated in both the French and Brazilian associations on campus.
She said she appreciates it when people are patient with those from other countries. Ribeiro also said that it helps when American students try to adapt a little to the cultures of others.
“Just to facilitate the friendship, I feel like it should be 90/10,” she said.
Ribeiro is one of the many international students at BYU-I whose journey here has been filled with faith and dedication.
For more information about the international students attending the university, students can go to BYU-I’s International Student Services Web page.