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I’m an international student in an American college. I’m currently taking a class in creative nonfiction but I’m worried that my cultural references and an overall cultural difference would get in the way of them connecting with my writing.

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    Can you elaborate on where your concerns are? Like are you afraid of using Idioms that don't translate to English or American English?
    – hszmv
    Sep 12, 2023 at 11:06

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What is your eventual goal?

  1. If you want to learn to write and later publish in your own language and culture, write as if you were writing for someone "back home" and answer questions that your fellow students might have in the discussion.

  2. If you want to publish in English in America, this will be a great learning oppurtunity! You will get in depth feedback from an American audience that can help you either avoid cultural idiosyncrasies or use them in a way that your readers can deduce their meaning from the context.

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I think the literal answer to your question is ‘with grace, determination, and verve.’ Plus hard work. But that goes without saying since graduate school requires hard work. Grace, determination and verve will see you through most every challenge you’ll encounter.

More usefully, since you were accepted into graduate school, you are likely very capable of completing the expected work. Therefore you don’t need to worry that your perceived deficiencies with regard to the cultural equivalent of lingua franca.

If you encounter references you don’t understand, tools like bard and google will assist you in understanding. If you confusing persists, ask somebody about it. It’s a terrific way to learn about other people. You learn who not to talk with because they are the people that act like you are dumb or ignorant because you don’t get who Captain Kangaroo is. The people who happily explain it are likely people you’ll enjoy getting to know better.

As far as incorporating your own cultural references, learn from your own experience on not grasping some minor detail of American cultural. Likely, you’ll find you’ll understand the reference from the context it used in. Just try to couch your own references with enough context that anyone can understand them.

Some of the greatest writers in English aren’t native speakers. I think they focus on the human condition and that transcends cultural fluency. But that is just my opinion.

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I would say that if you are unsure about understanding of U.S. cultural references, it's not a big deal because the U.S. is a major exporter of its culture, with a lot of its TV shows and movies getting watched around the world. As others have said, asking questions is the best way to understand other people and what they are like. Additionally, from what of read of foreign opinions on Americans, Americans tend to be overly friendly to foreign visitors and willing to help them understanding. Often they've found that it comes off as initially insincere, but you'll find that they actually mean it. Among the English speaking world, Americans in retail often come off as condescending when they tell you to "Have a nice day" instead of "good-bye" but 9 times out of 10, they actually being sincere (Culturally, many Americans find the phrase "good-bye" a little to formal, and would much rather prefer a "see you soon" as it implies that you want to have future interactions. If it's unlikely, "Have a nice day" is a good substitute... sure you might not meet again, but you're not wishing them ill will. Good-bye implies that this is the last time you will meet ever."

As for your own cultural references not translating, this might lead to what feels like an "explain the joke" situation to you, but that's the same with all cultural exchanges. That said, Americans don't get a lot of interactions with foreign cultures. It's a huge country and certain regions are foreign enough to other Americans. Not to mention that they only have two land borders, one of which is with Canada, which is quite similar to America culturally. We do get interested in foreign cultures and want to learn. Take this as an opportunity to teach.

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