I’m not from here, I am not from there, I am not from anywhere!
Whenever someone asks me, “Where are you from?” they have no idea what they have gotten themselves into. They expect a short, sweet, concise answer that explains the “exotic” accent. But, what happens when the answer entails a more thorough and complicated answer.
For instance, in my case, I’m not from here … I’m not from there … am I really from anywhere? Simply put, “I am an international.”
We internationals are usually lumped under one category, and I am not victimizing us at all. Being placed under that very broad category gives you an identity; however, it also takes away a great part of it from you as well.
Through my veins run both Nicaraguan and Peruvian blood, and I was born in the United States. So, am I North, Central or South American? Where and who do I identify myself with?
Leaving your nest, home and comfort zone, whatever you want to call it, is hard for anyone. However, internationals are not only geographically miles and miles away from home; they are immersed in a culture completely different from yours.
Never before did I realize how important the sense of belonging was until I began my college life three years ago.
I have never put my PR skills more into practice then the first week living at college. You meet SO many people. Whenever I said home for me was Nicaragua, I would get a confused look. The bedazzlement was either a) because they simply did not know where my country was, or b) I wasn’t what they expect a Nicaraguan to look like.
The key word here is “expect.” People expect you to act or be a certain way. I don’t blame anyone for this. However, it does make it more difficult to “fit in.” My advice is to embrace your exotic international appeal and use it in every aspect of college life.
First of all, you will most likely at some point of your freshman year feel homesick. There is absolutely no food like your mom’s and your bathroom was, well, yours! What do you do when you get that apprehensiveness that makes you want to go back home?
My advice is to not ignore it. Acknowledge that it is there but choose to overcome it. It’s NOT just you! I know I feel better when I am not the only one in misery. So, talk with others about what you’re feeling. Don’t call home 24/7 because besides getting a very expensive phone bill, you will also find yourself physically and mentally somewhere completely different. Realize that you are lucky to have this opportunity to study abroad! Being an international living the college life in the United States gives you a very broad perspective of the world.
Don’t be exclusive: I wholly recognize that it is so much easier to get along and talk with people with ethnicities and backgrounds similar to yours, but don’t make the mistake of only developing relationships with people who speak your native language or are from the same country you are. Get out of your comfort zone and embrace new experiences. Remember that you don’t have to narrow your learning to the classroom. You will learn SO much more from your daily contact with people from everywhere.
Coming from a Latin American background, my life has always been very family oriented. So, when I came to the United States I was shocked by the independence of Americans. In all honesty, I think people assume you don’t need help unless you ask for it. However, in my experience most people are more than happy to help.
I know there have been days where all I want to do is think and speak in Spanish. So, if you are at the point where you NEED the mother language, go back to your roots. Do things you do at home. For example, if for your whole life you have always gone to church, try to find a church in your language. Most likely you will find one.
I cannot emphasize how vital it is for you to become involved during your college life. Even though college in the long run is only a portion of your life, remember the friendships you develop and experience will stay with you forever. And who knows? Maybe that club or organization you were in will someday turn into a job.
Another aspect of college life most people are terrified of is having a roommate! My parents always told me that college was an overall preparation for the future. Living with someone who probably has a different lifestyle from yours will teach you tolerance, consideration, among many other things. Whether you live in the United States or back at home once you graduate, you will most likely have to work with other people, and these qualities will come in handy in the real word.
Most importantly, embrace and love that you are different! Be a cultural ambassador for your country (or countries) and enjoy your overseas adventure.