After keeping myself semi-happily alive 8,000 miles away from family and all things familiar, I think I am eligible to give some advice to international students like me.
I moved to America from India a few years ago to pursue journalism. During these years I have failed, won, laughed and cried myself into the person I am today. I’ve learned a lot and I wanted to share what has worked for me. So, here are some of my tips on how to survive and find your worth in an unfamiliar place.
First, and seriously I cannot emphasize this enough, go to your classes. Show up. I wish someone sat me down and told me this sincerely. When you’re in a new country, you have to build your community. Professors and peers with whom you keep in touch become a part of that community. Classes also help create the all-important first step of getting used to a new place — settling into a routine.
Secondly, go to club meetings and events on campus. This is where you can meet like-minded people. Stony Brook has involvement fairs and job fairs that enable students to interact with the university’s larger community. Applications like SBengaged and Corq also help students discover groups and events in a new place. I wasn’t active in campus life until the end of my sophomore year, and I wish I had started earlier.
If you’re a student at Stony Brook, you’re exposed to people from all around the world. You’re also exposed to your own prejudices and biases. Question why you think the way you do and whether it is something that should be changed or not. Being aware of your own biases opens you up to fruitful interactions with diverse people, ideas and thoughts that can add meaning to your life.
Also, literally check yourself. Make sure to give yourself at least 10 minutes of “me time” to see if your mental health is okay. Sometimes, we can get so caught up between classes, work and keeping up with everyone back home that we forget to check in with ourselves. Try to make some time for yourself every day.
I like to eat with my hands. This is something I tried to change but I am done denying myself simple pleasures for other people’s validation. Accepting my accent was particularly tough — I never realized I had an accent until I came to America. Then, once someone pointed it out, I heard it every time I spoke. I faked an American accent for two years. Now, I sound like an American in India and like an Indian in America. I regret rolling my rs and softening my ds to comfort people who did not like my accent. I have accepted my peculiar accent as a part of the journey. Make space for change in your life, new experiences, people, art and words — make space for all new things. Embrace the change that comes with moving to a foreign country. Be true to yourself. Don’t change yourself for the sake of assimilation to a point where you begin to disassociate with your identity.
Do it for you.
Make sure you do the things you had on the list you made before you reached New York, with or without company. I don’t know who taught us that we need the company of others to enjoy a good meal or a movie, but they were wrong. So go to the museum, even if all your friends flake and eat cupcakes at Magnolia, if that’s what you want to do. Exploring a new place by yourself at your own pace is an underrated adventure. With enough solo outings, you will learn to trust yourself and this will build confidence rooted in experience.
Learn the culture.
A great way to explore a place is by starting local. Start learning about the history, cuisine, art and economics of where you are living to better understand the place. Explore the art that came from the place you’re at — Long Island has given the world Walt Whitman, Mariah Carey, Billy Joel and LL Cool J, to name a few.
Going to a local band performance, Saturday brunch or farmers market can really help you get a feel for the place and people. My favorite spots near Stony Brook are BB & GG Farms in Saint James, Stony Brook Beach and the Avalon Nature Preserve.
Let it change.
There will be changes, big and small, changes within you and around you. Accept them. You might move houses a couple of times or lose friends you thought were for life. Let these experiences teach you and change you. Exchange your comfort for adventure. You will not regret it. Don’t hold grudges against people who hurt you along the way; we cannot grow if we are bitter. Understand that you are privileged to have this opportunity and it took effort. Don’t pay attention to people who don’t have the capacity to understand your duality.