Life as an International Student
I was just reading a blog post my friend wrote about education abroad and I realized how I have always wanted to write about what I have learned as an International Student in the United States. This is that post.
I came to the United States Fall of 2002 as an International Student at Hanover College in Hanover, IN. At that time, I had no understanding what liberal arts education meant even though I had applied to several liberal arts schools. In fact, I was never really forced to think about what liberal arts means & why I wanted to attend a liberal arts institution until I applied to St. Lawrence University as a transfer student. Like most students from a developing nation, my intention was to transfer to an engineering school so I can become an engineer. All that changed when I took my first few requirement classes. I started to realize that while I loved solving math problems & writing programs, I also loved to talk about our purpose in this world, the recent political developments in South Asia, how capitalism & globalization affect the world that we live in and bunch of other things that I had not realized I was interested in until I was exposed to them. It was then that I understood what it took to be a well rounded individual and how a liberal arts education helps one to achieve that goal.
Having been around my parents who took care of me, this was the first time I was outside of my comfort zone. I was fairly certain that I was going to cry myself to sleep every night and be homesick all the time. You see, while I had prepared myself to face the world independently, I had very little idea of how to tackle different things life throws at you until I got here. I always felt that the application process kind of served as an introduction to life in the United States because I had to go out & seek a lot of information & figure out the whole process on my own. That experience made it somewhat easy to transition to American Student life & helped me seek out people & information relevant to multiple issues an international student faces in the first week ranging from registering for classes to finding a job on campus so you can have spending money (or in my case money to pay for tuition).
I realized early on that most people around you are just as scared to talk to you as you are to talk to them. However, if you take that first step to go out and start a conversation, it becomes that much easier to connect with other students. It is especially tough for International Students because its very easy to just hang out with other international kids. Taking the initiative and breaking that initial barrier did a world of good to me not just in terms of making friends but also in terms of being immersed into the American culture. After all, I was studying abroad and the cultural exchange, as ignored as it was in the original decision making process of coming to the United States, has been an important (and pleasant) side effect.
A quick way to figure things out, as I learned first hand, was not having any options. For example, I did not know how to go about finding a job on campus my first week. However, I no longer had the option of going back to my parents or anyone else for that matter. There was no option but to find a job. The thing is that when you are forced to find an answer, you find a way to get that answer. I used to panic pretty easily when put in pressure situations like that (and I still do to a certain degree) but between finding a job to pay for school, figuring out a way to transfer to a better school with a stronger financial aid package & navigating the tough job market as an unemployed recent graduate, I have become confident that no matter how much of a curve ball life throws at me, I will find a way to get a hit and get on base. I don’t think I would have been able to develop that level of confidence had I not faced so many curve balls. The only thing that’s different from baseball is that in real life, there are no batting practices.
With that said, I want to emphasize that it is not easy being an international student in the United States, especially when you are trying to pay for your school. Financial challenges will be a norm and strict budgeting discipline is a must. Things are not going to fall in place and sometimes it feels like no matter what you do, you are doomed. Its those moments that you need to search for perseverance within yourself & fight the urge to give up. Not everyone is prepared to take on this challenge and, as a result, not everyone survives the challenges an American collegiate life throws at an International Student. However, if you are successful, you are guaranteed to come out of the experience a richer, more confident individual who is that much more prepared to take on life by the horns.