Why being an international student is rewarding

by Suma Massaley

Some of you reading this are probably settling into your new dormitories or are in the process of boarding planes for maybe the first time away from home, or you’re taking that big step of driving away from mommy and daddy only to stay with strangers.

Well, four years ago, I did the same thing.

The culture shock, unrelenting homesickness, the fear of failure  – whew! You just name it.

But those feelings represent the most important aspects of the esteemed international student experience. Looking back on these last four years, I wouldn’t trade my experiences, my friendships, the growth, the failures and the successes for anything in the world.

In the spring of 2014, I stepped out of the plane and onto the land of greatness. Like many of you, I had no friends at school and little knowledge of the American school system.

As a person who usually welcomes challenges, I was not only overwhelmed but also scared and alone, because for the first time, 17-year-old Suma was away from her mom and siblings. Aside from the culture shock, I was required to speak the language of a different group of people.

All of these challenges were shocking to me. At first, I distanced myself from the reality of American life, but during the first class of my freshman year, I was forced to confront it. It was a rude awakening, but it was then that I learned how different the American system was.

Enough of this daunting rant.

Let me tell you about my ultimate international student experience!

Other international students may have a variety of different tips, but I can confidently say that being open-minded and willing to grow out of my comfort zone was vital to my success.

I would never have learned to speak and write proper English if I did not grow out of my comfort zone. Mastering American English was my biggest challenge. In fact, when I boarded the plane from Liberia to America, I thought the English I learned in high school would serve me well, but to my surprise, I couldn’t even sustain a five-minute conversation with the average American.

So why am I blabbing about breaking out of your comfort zones?

Because it is important that you make friends that are not from your country of origin. The best way to do this is by joining a club you’re interested in or getting involved in student government. This gives you the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds, and it also exposes you to distant cultures.

Most often, I find it easy to relate to students that are of African descent. I mean, who wouldn’t want to connect with someone who already speaks their language and understands their sense of humor?

Yeah sorry, Americans. It is sometimes difficult to relate to your childhood jokes, games and movies. I don’t blame you though; we grew up in opposite ends of the world.

So you see? Why wouldn’t an international student from India only want to mix with Indian students? They don’t have to argue about where to go for dinner. Most Indian international students miss their moms’ cooking and would instead order food from an Indian restaurant. And yes, as an African woman, I’d take rice over pizza any day, without a doubt.

But the advantages that come with existing within your comfort zones while away from home actually severely disadvantage you.

I found this out the hard way.  From my experience, I learned more about African-American history from my African-American friends than I did in my Africana Studies class. I emerged into their culture through conversations, took road trips with them and sometimes even visited their hometowns. Surrounding myself around those much different from me was essential to my overall growth as a student.

I wouldn’t have been afforded this first-hand knowledge if all of my friends were Liberian. Instead, I would’ve existed in a bubble of my own consciousness, which would’ve limited my understanding of the diversity that exists around me.

I’ve emphasized the struggles I’ve had with English, but I learned how to write proper English in the classroom, while I learned how to speak proper English through conversing with Americans.

My American friends would call me out on my English if I said something absurd or if I mispronounced a word. This goes to show that building relationships with people unlike yourself really does hold value.

Your new friends become your family away from home, and navigating through San Diego gets a little bit easier when you have San Diegan friends.

So today, I implore you to move away from your comfort zone and challenge yourself to meet friends that are outside of your cultural lineage.