Taking CAS 170, a Course on US Life

If you’re an international student, coming to study in the United States can sometimes feel like you’ve just been transported onto the set of a movie. The picturesque and idyllic campus here at the University of Rochester only propagates this, and so sometimes international students can feel out of place.

A course called CAS 170 was designed to help with that.

Rochester has a course for international students to help with culture shock.

Fittingly named US Life: Customs & Practices, the course gathers students from farther away, be this for only a semester or a whole undergraduate (and perhaps post-graduate) career. It teaches international students the following skills:

  • Discover how to be successful in the U.S. classroom.
  • Practice valuable communication skills.
  • Build an understanding of American values.
  • Explore campus and the Rochester community through guided trips.
  • Have fun and earn two credits!

Through the course, students explore campus, community, and American culture, enhance their intercultural competence, and build academic skills to improve their success in the American classroom. Students compare cultures through a variety of readings, in class discussions, blogs and outside class activities. Topics include verbal and non-verbal communication, education systems, ethics, relationships, perception, beliefs, values and norms.

Feeling homesick? You’re not alone.

During my first year, I was certainly one of those students feeling out of place. Even though Switzerland is not too far removed from the United States in terms of culture and food, the shift is enough to illicit feelings of nostalgia and homesickness in even the most stubborn of us. In fact, I personally was so stubborn that I decided against taking the class first semester, even though it had been advertised and suggested to me.

Eventually however, the seasons started to change; the leaves turned from their greens into yellows and reds, and eventually into different shades of brown. Fall is also the season for a variety of cultural festivals and holidays, especially in the United States. First there’s Labor Day, and eventually Columbus Day rolls around. The Chinese students on campus celebrate Mid-Autumn festival, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur take place as well. Then there’s Halloween and Thanksgiving.

All those festivals and good food reminded me of my family overseas, and it wasn’t long until I myself could almost taste all the particularities of a traditional Swiss meal during this time. Before I knew it, I had gotten homesick.

I realized that even though I was far away, having come to the United States with the intention of experiencing a culture different from mine, I wasn’t the only student on campus feeling this way. Thus I resolved to look for a way to connect with students that had a similar experience.

Find a shared experience.

I remembered hearing about CAS 170, a class designed specifically for international students, and figured that joining the class would be a sure-fire way to meet others that missed their home-cooked meals just as much as I did.

I was right. Not only was taking CAS 170 was a good way to connect with international students all over campus (I still see some of my classmates today), the class also allowed me to become more familiar with my surroundings, and in particular the City of Rochester.

For me, the class also allowed me to make my first personal connection to a member of the University’s faculty. Whenever I see Professor Kraus around campus, the two of us stop for a minute and make plans to catch up.

CAS 170 isn’t a requirement for anyone coming to campus; the class merely exists as an option for most international students. For me, however, it was one of the best options of that year.

About the author

Jackie Heinzelmann

I'm an undergraduate of the Class of 2018 double-majoring in international relations and East Asian studies. As an international student from Switzerland, I've previously been part of Residential Life on campus, and I am currently holding executive board memberships for two clubs on campus. When I'm not busy getting ready for class, writing, or watching movies, I barista at the Starbucks on campus while simultaneously trying to juggle some cool research for political science.

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