Studying abroad was always a dream of mine. I wanted to to live in a college dorm, hang out with friends until 3 a.m., wake up just 10 minutes before an 8 a.m. class and definitely go to class in my pajamas.There is nothing super special about how I ended up in Goshen. It was close enough to my brother’s university, and GC gave me a good scholarship. These reasons are pretty typical for international students on our campus. (Ask your international friends. Scholarship is definitely in their answer.)
I remember my high school self daydreaming about all the things that I would do in college in the U.S. It was going to be so much fun, just like the movies! I remember my excitement and the adrenaline rush when I landed at O’Hare. A new adventure. Finally, I got to cross something big off my bucket list — studying abroad.
I wish I could being in the U.S. stayed that fun. However, after the first month, real life hit me. I struggled with all sort of things that any first-year struggles with. Making friends, cafeteria food, sharing living space and tolerating others in your room or floor. But, on top of that, it was hard to understand full conversations with people speaking English when I was translating in my head 24/7!
By the end of the first month, I started feeling homesick. I wanted to tell family and friends back home about all the stories and what was going on with me, but with a nine-hour time difference, it was hard to carry on a conversation longer than 45 minutes. Plus, phone conversation can never substitute actual conversation.
My religion and culture looked the exact opposite from the culture and the religion here. My hijab (head-cover) was no longer the norm but a way to differentiate me when people didn’t remember my name. I became unique because of how I looked, not because of who I was. That’s a story for another day.
What I am trying to say is that, as an international student, there are a bunch of extra struggles in coming to college. Many of you who are coming from faraway states or a very different cultural background within the U.S. can probably feel some of what I am talking about.
But it’s hard for international students to not to be able to work off-campus. Or to not go home over Christmas break or summer break because the ticket is crazy expensive. I can go on and on. That’s also a list for another day. My point is that life carries on and I, like most of the international students here, sucked up all these struggles to make this college thing work.
Don’t get me wrong: I am so thankful for coming here to study. I believe that, back home, I never would have been able to have the education and the experiences that I had here. My comfort zone definitely stretched.
The hard times and the good times (I had so many of these, too) absolutely enhanced my personality and my world views. For instance, living in the dorms was fun, but not when you realize that you have zero privacy. You learn how to deal with that and find your own hub on campus. Slowly, people find their ways to adapt. Mine was through the International Students Club (ISC).
As a first-year, the phenomenal leaders and upperclassmen who got me involved were magical. This group of people shared with me all the “ugh” and the “yay” moments.
ISC members understand me when I talked crap about the educational system back home and when I also talked crap about the educational system here. Together, we mock the weird things in the American culture without being judged.
It takes split-seconds to click with an international student and care about one another. Connecting with international students became my joy.
Since the second semester of my first year, I have been working with the admissions office. I have held the position of intern for the international student counselor since then. My job is basically to connect with prospective international students and help them through the admissions process, facilitate their travel arrangement and their first week of school.
No question is a silly question for international prospies. I enjoy answering all of their questions and concerns. I love my job. My favorite moment is absolutely when I finally meet my international prospies when they arrive on campus. You know, after 20+ hours of traveling.
The whole purpose of this perspective piece is the following message:
To my all international friends: YOU ARE INCREDIBLE! Just the fact that you left your country to come here is something else. Your parents are the most courageous parents ever and I bet they are proud of you. Keep shining at GC.
To my all American friends, classmates, professors and staff, you get the exceptional ones from our countries. Take good care of us. We appreciate all your support and help.
Actually, speaking of support, International Student Coffeehouse is coming up this Saturday. We would love to share part of our cultures with you.