Coming to America—The Pros and Cons of Being an International Student

By Sandhya Rasaili

It was the evening of August 9, 2013. My home was filled with relatives and everyone was chatting about me. My cousins were busy packing and my mom was busy making coffee for everyone. I was standing on the edge of the terrace noticing the beauty of the high and green hills that rested on the edge of the valley on the south side of my home.

It was my last night in Nepal for a year.  I had received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the US for two semesters. Even though I was very excited to go to the US, I was sad that I was going to live without my parents for the first time. Everyone came to see me take off, and I was the center of attention. I was amazed to see that people love me so much. They were quite sad because they wouldn’t be able to see me for a year. We Nepali people are very emotional when we have to say goodbye to our loved ones, and that’s what was happening that night.

The next day I was ready to go the airport at 6:00 in the morning. My elders did some Hindu rituals to bless me with a safe journey. Everyone was crying except me. Even though I normally cry when I don’t see my mom for a week, I was so excited about traveling alone that I kept my emotions pushed down.

I have always wanted to travel and live independently without any support from my parents, and coming to the US was a dream come true. I could not wait to live an independent life. Finally a girl from the lap of the Himalayas arrived to the wonderland of Cobleskill, New York.

Cobleskill is really an amazing place, quite similar to my home in Nepal. It is peaceful and not crowded by people, and those I have met are cooperative and friendly.

I still miss my home. Even though I have everything I need, it still is not home. For the first two or three days I suffered terribly from homesickness. Of course it was the first time I was away from my family, and it was normal to be homesick. But I decided not to spend all my time missing home and to keep busy by figuring out what new things I could do here in Cobleskill.

It is quite challenging to adjust to a new place, especially when you are far from home, living in a different culture, and having grown up depending on your parents for everything. My first challenge here was the food that people eat here. I follow the Hindu religion, and in this faith the cow is considered to be a goddess. So it was offensive to see beef in the first few days. I would not eat any other food, and when I did, it made me so sick that I had to go to the wellness center. Besides beef, many other foods were strange for me. I would go to the cafeteria and look at the food for about half an hour, drink juice and then come back. Now it is almost six months, and I am used to most of these new foods, except the beef.

I believe life without challenges is not a worthy life since you won’t have anything special to talk about when you get older. Being a disciple of Hinduism and Buddhism, I was also challenged by young people’s language here. I followed Gandhi’s three monkeys’ rules: hear no evil, speak no evil and see no evil. This may be strange to understand, but this is how I grew up and, of course it will take some time to get used to hearing such words.

Besides the words, the American accent has been my other problem since I was used to the British accent. Though people could not understand me very well, I decided not to give up, and I spoke with whomever I met wherever I went in order to improve my accent.

Everyone has challenges in life, sometimes big, sometimes small. But we should know how to tackle them if we really want to get what we want. I had challenges but decided to look at everything positively, remembering that it was my decision to live independently in a new place very much like my birth place.

Albert Einstein said, “Behind every adversity there lies an opportunity.” Accepting challenges is not adversity, but for me there were a lot of opportunities behind those challenges. I am very happy to be learning about the cultures and norms of not only America but other countries too, as I live in the international dorm. I am learning a lot about Chinese, Tunisian, Egyptian and Japanese cultures and languages. My challenges are nothing but an experience.

I decided to ask my international friends about their experiences being in United States away from their home. Here are their stories:

Ikram MIkram Mechlaoui, from Tunisia, is an Arabic professor at SUNY Cobleskill enrolled in a Fulbright Scholarship program known as Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (i.e. Fulbright FLTA). She is 26 years old and she says she was not as excited to come to the US as she was to see what kind of person she would become after this experience and how this experience would affect her personal and professional life. Of course, in being here, her challenges were in being away from family and her friends for the first time, the different food, and the extremely cold weather. In spite of everything, she learned more about herself and her culture as a result of having to introduce herself and her culture to the people and organization here. She also learned about other international cultures, feasts, foods and religions. She learned how to manage her finances, and, more importantly, she realized how much she loves her country and family.

Yuan Wang, whose English name is Maren, is from Shanghai, China. She was excited to come to the US and saw it as a privilege to experience a culture and language other than Chinese. She is 22 and has been studying plant science. The first challenge she had to face was language and her accent. She was extremely shy and nervous about talking with American people. Later, to improve her English, she decided not to be shy anymore and to talk with more people. She also found differences between China and the US. She likes that people are more open in the US than in China. She enjoys the people here, since they are very friendly and hug each other, which is uncommon in China. She also found that Americans are more dependent on fast food, like McDonalds and Subway. People in the US also eat a more meat products than people in China, where they prefer more vegetables. She is happy to do laundry by herself and also to learn how to save money. Overall she is enjoying it here and loves her independent life.

Marina Adel Marzok from Egypt was very excited to come here to the US and loved the snow that she experienced the very first day she arrived. She is a business major studying finance. She loves traveling and learning in different ways. She also likes to experience different cultures and values, which was what eventually led her to the US. She is 21 years old and happy to be living in a different country at her young age. Challenges she has been faced with are living apart from family and learning the English accent. She was afraid that people would not understand her, but later learned to tackle this by becoming more confident and talking with more people. She also learned to be more responsible toward her studies and other aspects of life. She is happy to know the friendly people of Cobleskill and decided to spend her time fruitfully, since she is here for learning.

Tapan Patel is from Gujarat, India. He is 19 and studying business here at SUNY Cobleskill. For him, coming to the US is freedom from his family. He was happy to come here, since he could be more independent and responsible. His challenges are that he has to read a lot, do his work by himself, and eat food he doesn’t like. He also shared that he likes the education system in India because professors encourage him to do homework.  He enjoys the cold weather and lifestyle here in the US. As a whole, he is learning new experiences.

Life is all about learning, and it never ends, until we die. We learn to cry and smile from our first teacher, our mom. Then we have several more teachers in life, whether they are people or experiences. Time is our other teacher since it forces us to adjust and tackle the ups and downs of life. Now my international friends and I are learning from our great teacher time, enjoying our life in a different part of the world from our home—the United States of America.

photo by Julia Puciato

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