The thought of heading off to college can be daunting for most students, but starting college in a whole new country is an experience like no other – especially when you've always lived a comfortable lifestyle with your parents taking care of all your needs before. My experience of going to postgraduate college in a new country has been a ride wrought with varied emotions and unforgettable moments. I walked into my new college campus ready to start the next chapter of my postgraduate education filled with feelings of fear and excitement – both gripping me at my core.
The thought of embarking on a new adventure in a foreign country seemed so glamorous, but the anxiety of the unknown was hard to shake off. Would I make friends? Would I be bullied? Would I be one of the cool kids? What if I'm not smart enough for the course load? How do I interact with different people from different cultures? A million thoughts ran through my head, but the toughest thing to digest was the fact that I couldn't sit and discuss my anxiety face to face with my parents – something I had done innumerable times before and perhaps even took it for granted.
So here I was, ready to take on the world – thoughtful, nervous and even a little unprepared. The orientation was an opportunity for students to get to know each other. But I tend to take a while to open up to people and just sat in a corner – speaking only when spoken to. Needless to say – the point of the orientation was slightly defeated.The first few months passed quickly. The intense course load was like nothing I've experienced before. But it wasn't just the course I had to get used to. I was getting used to multiple accents and teaching styles – factors I hadn't even considered during my education back home when everything was so much more familiar to me.
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I don't regret my time in postgraduate college one bit, but I would be lying if I said that it was completely challenge-free. While I've now learned to immerse myself in different cultures, it wasn't as easy to embrace it back then.
In my first year, I was terribly homesick. I missed my parents, my family and my friends. How was I supposed to get on without the most important people in my life? I had to make do with Skype calls every now and then – until I could muster up the courage to create a social life on campus. Yes, it took me a while to build a friend circle. Not everyone goes through the challenges I did, but if you hang in there long enough, you'll soon start to experience the miracles of campus living.
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While I previously felt no hesitation in complaining to my mother about her food, I now missed it dearly. Eating new cuisines wasn't always easy on my stomach and I missed the comfort of home cooked meals. More importantly, I missed my mother's face when she served my favorite meals. Waves of nostalgia came over me and I had tears in my eyes during so many meals. Many people may have thought of me as weird, but I knew there were several others who were feeling exactly what I was. When I look back on my time in college, the first year was the hardest. No parents, different cultures, food changes, clothing changes and different languages – so many firsts in my life! But I soon came to the realization that it gets easier and better with time.
Once I opened myself up a little more to the college experience, I saw it in a new light. The mixture of academic and social activities allowed me to balance a good schedule. I joined the debate team to overcome my fear of public speaking and found that it awoke a sleeping giant within me. I even started to make friends and the best part is, I can now safely saw that my postgraduate college experience shaped me for life!
Become Part of Your College
I can only imagine that others are going through the same first-year difficulties like me. My strongest advice would be to realize that time makes a big difference to the experience. I encourage fellow foreign students to attend orientations because they are great for getting to know faculty and other learners.
Be a part of a group in college because it gives you a sense of belonging. For me, it was the debate club. But there are swimming clubs, sororities, fraternities and student organizations to choose from. The best part that I found with international college is that it gives you a clean slate – so you can be what you want and do what you want without past labels haunting you. It's absolutely natural to feel homesick – I felt it often. Make use of the wonders of the Internet and Skype with your loved ones whenever possible. It helps tremendously!
If you miss your mom's cooking and your dorm allows culinary preparation, consider getting a few recipes and trying them out on your own – so that you can feel your mom's presence, even though she's probably several oceans away. Invite some friends to enjoy the food and you've got a little social gathering going for you.
The important thing to remember is that feeling awkward and out of place is natural for many international students, but it certainly gets easier with time, patience and perseverance. It did for me and it will be for you!
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