If you’ve come to look for the panacea to homesickness, you won’t find it here. This one isn’t about hunky-dory things. This one has been brought on by a few questions the facilitators got asked at the USAPPS workshop last week, and most of which I’d like to address here. Here goes nothing.
There’s a common myth that university is supposed to be this orgy of socializing and reinventing yourself – a myth that I’d like to dispel. In university, especially in one as big as the UofI, lectures often involve more than 200 students. I found myself sitting next to one person during Chem 102, then scribbling notes between empty seats in Math 231, eating alone during lunch, meeting up with committee members in the evening, and spending most of the night studying by myself, or occasionally with a friend. University life wasn’t what I had expected it to be. Instead of making a huge bunch of friends that I regularly went out with, I learned to be comfortable by myself.
It sounds depressing, sure, but honestly, university is a lot of learning about how to deal with things on your own. And along the way you make friends. It’s interesting to note, though, that many of the USAPPS participants asked whether it is difficult to make ‘American friends’. Well, no doubt we come from different countries. We have different accents, beliefs, cultural quirks, and to just sweep all these things under the carpet would be a mistake. Of course these things make finding commonalities harder. But they also make great conversation starters. At the end of the day, we’re all clueless college students. Some of us merely happen to be playing the four-year game on home court.
I often get asked questions like, ‘Is there discrimination?’ and ‘Will they look down on you?’, which is normal. And while I’d like to con-fort you and say ‘No worries! Murica got your back!’, the reality is that discrimination is as much as a fact of life as the fact that Fred Weasley died. Honestly, we Malaysians have this in-built reaction to Western culture in which we irrationally admire everything they do, and as long as we give off the impression that we are less than them, that’s how long the cultural barriers will remain. Show yourself and your culture the respect that you show others’, before expecting any in return.
So yes, to my Malaysian friends making the journey overseas, racism is real. Discrimination happens. You will feel isolated, lonely, and constantly pine for the sound of Hokkien (or maybe that’s just me). The feeling of cultural vertigo never quite goes away. You will wonder why your life isn’t nearly as interesting as your friend living in California, or why your Instagram story isn’t nearly as full of international friends and live performances. You may start to regret your decision to study two oceans away. You may need to cry in the middle of the night, wondering when your international-student life will turn into the exciting joyride that every blog, Facebook and Instagram post says it’s supposed to be.
College life is stressful. You will worry about your GPA. You will lament your choice of taking a class that you were not required to take, but still did because hubris. You will miss home, and the familiar smell of belacan cooking in the kitchen. You will worry about money and rent, and whether there will be enough to travel at the end of the semester. And for international students, you will wonder if you will ever fit in, if America will ever feel like home.
I cannot give you any answers. But, personally, I just stopped caring too much and did whatever I felt I wanted to (except for booze, drugs and sex – because aku anak Malaysia yang ingin membanggakan negara). You only have four years in the US, maybe less.
Make it count.