Across the Ocean

Before actually studying abroad, I often envisioned it as wild, fun and free, flooded with parties, etc. It takes less than a week for me to realize how wrong I was. Time seems to flow much more slowly here than back in Beijing. People are nice and smile a lot. Even the postman across the street says “hi!” to me.

Living abroad is tough, but the only promise you can make to those who love you is to take care of yourself. To those who plan to go to or are already in the US far away from home, there are some tips I can share:

1.Treat people the way you want to be treated. Everyone is “new” here, most without family, old friends or environment they feel comfortable in. Since we are in the same situation, is there any reason we can’t reach out to help others? As the saying I recently learned here, “Treat people the way you want to be treated.” Always put yourself in other’s shoes and you’ll feel no longer alone.

2.Step out of your comfort zone and get to know the person sitting next to you, no matter what color his/her eyes are. I know saying hi to one different from you is intimidating, but believe me, they are intimidated by you as well. No one will judge your accent or appearance as long as you are showing sincerity and kindness.  Compliment their hairstyle, talk about football and some related experiences. They will be glad to speak with you!

3.Embrace every little joy in life. When shopping for groceries at Wal-Mart, I bought some candles with the smell of lavender. When coming back from home exhausted, I would light a candle and write down every funny part of the day I could remember. To survive in a totally different place can be tough, so you must learn to view things positively, pick up little hobbies, and gather the strength to move on.


Living Across Borders

I vaguely recall my first day of preschool.  It was the first time I had spent time extensively with other kids that were not Chinese family friends or my siblings.  It was the first time that I would be expected to speak English as my primary language, despite the fact that I was born in the US.  It was a harsh reality, and one that I remember vividly despite how young I was.

I didn’t know expressions or slang.  Sometimes, despite the best efforts of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, I didn’t know basic words.  It was frightening and I felt like I was in a foreign land.  I didn’t know to say “ow” when something hurt or what a lozenge was.  There was a learning curve that no 4 year old should expect from life.

(The lozenge episode actually happened in the 3rd grade.  My teacher, Mrs. Dunn, offered me a lozenge for my cough and I had to ask her several times what she was offering me.  I actually thought about telling on her to the principal for trying to get me to eat weird candy.  I don’t know why she couldn’t have just said cough drop…)

Coming to Columbus was like going back to preschool all over again.  But this time my English was flawless.  Yet, it still had that feeling of entering a foreign land.  The trees were weird, the air had a different scent to it, and people didn’t look the same as they did back home.  I learned that Ohio doesn’t have soda and people would give me weird looks if I asked for one instead of a pop.  (It was the lozenge issue all over again.)  I was out of place and essentially a tourist in the land I was trying to make into my home.

I did my best to at first assimilate, and then scale back and merely adapt.  I was different, and there was no way for me to totally blend in with the crowd, and so I tried to merely fit in.  I did fine, but I was still being hit by a one-town punch of culture shock and homesickness.  When the effects of that doozy of a jab-cross combo subsided I realized a few things:

a) when people asked me where I was from, they didn’t necessarily mean what part of Asia

b) when people asked me what part of Asia I was from, they meant my family, and they were not being racist, just curious.

c) this feeling of entering a foreign land happens to thousands of international students every year.  Except for them, they really are entering a foreign land, and they might not know the difference between a cough drop and a lozenge, and sometimes their confidence may need some bolstering and their fears assuaging.

So this message is for all those prospective international students that may be applying to our programs and may happen to read this blog:

a) It’s ok to feel nauseated and like the idea of moving across the world makes you want to throw up.  You’re taking a big step and it is equally exciting as it is nerve-wracking.

b) If you’re homesick, there are plenty of other international students with whom you can commiserate.  Many of which you’ll meet and become friends with during international orientation.

c) Your English will improve leaps and bounds by simply being immersed in the language while on campus, in class, reading or watching TV.  So don’t worry.

d) If you have a cough, just ask for a cough drop and not a lozenge.  No need to get fancy.  Lozenge is a pain to pronounce anyway.

e) If you’re thirsty for a Coke or Pepsi or Sprite whatever, they call it pop here.  And don’t try to directly translate from Chinese, because asking for a “gas water” will get you even less far than my asking for a soda.