Two years ago, around this season, I landed in the US for the first time. It was a dream come true. I couldn’t believe that something that seemed impossible at first became possible. Years before, in my high school slam-book, I had noted down that my dream has been to receive my higher education in America. However, when a series of unpredicted events happened I had almost lost all hope of even considering it. 10 years had passed since that dream, but I guess, that is the thing about dreams. If you wish for something hard enough, the universe will conspire and hand it over to you at the right time – against all odds!!
I stood there at the exit of Dulles international airport with the January chill piercing through my face. It felt real (except for my nose – which I could not “feel” at all). I paused a whole second to remember the moment that I first stepped foot in this great country. I felt alive, more so because I was entering my dream for real. I was accepted to do my Masters at Johns Hopkins (which everyone knew about even in small towns in India) and felt even better when the immigration officer was impressed to see Johns Hopkins in my visa stamp. My stay would be at the International Student House of Washington, DC (ISH-DC).
I was very skeptical at first about ISH. It seemed old, and sounded like a dorm. Little did I know that soon this place was going to be my most favorite place on earth. But, I had to go through a process before that.
So, grad school began. There was limited interaction with my classmates (that too was mostly program related), as to be expected from grad schools. I had a lot to study and a lot to read. I had to do this while experiencing my cultural shocks in the US – not understanding the language, sometimes not following the accent, and not understanding the cultural sensitivities. The climate was chilling, the food was different, my body was reacting differently to the extreme change in climate (from tropical India to desert Dubai to freezing Washington). Being so far away from family didn’t help either. People in US seemed direct, cold, and straight to the point (I later on discovered that people here are so warm and welcoming to foreigners. Everything I experienced initially was a figment of my worst fears.)
The whole situation reminded me of a Chinese proverb – Beware of what you wish for. I felt like I had made a wrong choice. Everything seemed so overwhelming. The dream was turning into a pile of disappointments.
As Asians, we are used to indirect messaging. In America, people communicate much more directly. Initially, this might look rude for an Asian (As you proceed with your stay in US, you will figure out that direct communication is in fact more convenient and time-saving). I got a first-hand taste of “direct communication” when my program adviser called me in three weeks into the spring semester. She said that, I may not be a perfect fit for this program. She had arrived at this conclusion because I had written my professor more than twice asking for clarification on what is required for the assignment, since the rubric she had presented was not clear. Back home, we are used to professors helping us out to the point that we were completely dependent on them. This was a major difference in education system here – you are on your own. I had failed to recognize this and my program adviser took it that I won’t be able to sustain the pressure of the program. I didn’t know what to do. I had left my well paid job in Dubai to pursue this dream and now it looked like I was not fit for it.
I came to ISH that night all shattered and indecisive. I sat down for dinner and my friends at that time could read my face. They intervened and that dinner conversation completely boosted me up. These were students from previous years and they knew exactly what to say. They did not seem worried at all about this whole set up.
They confirmed that most of the international students will go through this phase while they are in their first semester. If the program looks challenging, that means we did sign up for the right program. Part of the American education is to bring you out of your comfort zone and push you further than your limits. This is why American education is ranked the best and this is why we, the international students chose it over several other options. My ISH friends continued to support me, encouraged me, and even gave me some hacks to make it easier. I regained my confidence and worked harder. Guess what? It worked!! ISH was one privilege other international classmates in my program did not have.
This is why ISH turned out to be more than just a dorm. It became a true family. Picking each other up when it hit rock bottom. We bonded over our initial cultural shocks. So, dear students of Spring 2015, there is a good chance that your first semester in US will be hard. It might look difficult, but it won’t be impossible to get through it. Do not feel disappointed. At the end of this education, you will find a new person emerges out of you – exactly what American education is known for. All that work will be worth it and the ISH community has helped contribute a lot to this success in enhancing your education.
So, get ready for the challenge. When you hit roadblocks, feel free to talk to your friends in ISH (or find me, if anything, I can be a good listener). We will figure out a way together. We will not let you give up. At least, my previous ISH friends didn’t let me give up and I graduated successfully after all that turmoil. I also had several great American experiences along with my schooling – making it a perfect “education”. All thanks to the ISH community.