“I sometimes think I may have been too hasty in deciding to come over here,” says my roommate. We’re both Americans uprooted 4,242 miles away from home, across the Atlantic Ocean. The climate in the United Kingdom is similar to the Northeast USA, where I’m from, but my roommate is from Atlanta. When it rains (as it does often over here), she bemoans the weather and looks at her old Facebook pictures of warmer days in Georgia. Sometimes when we’re walking down the street the thick accents can sound like foreign languages, and we have to strain our ears to make sense of the words. The “American” isle at Tesco (the local supermarket) sometimes feels like a warm haven; the familiar packaging of the Pop Tarts, the Quaker Oats, even the Oreos feel like home on lonely days. We Americans already are discussing over how we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving this year, since we won’t be going home regardless of how much we want to.
When we applied, we forgot how vast an ocean can be.
My mom dropped me off at my dorm about five weeks ago to the exact day. My dorm, a 19th century Gothic-style hotel, looks like a castle, with turrets, large, princess-style windows, mantelpieces, and fireplaces. It’s the quintessential British university experience, and it looks exactly like the picture on the university website. No rubbish American-style dorms for me, I declared, as I scrolled through Instagram pictures of the hovel-sized rooms my friends at home struggled to decorate and store all of their things in. But they get to go home to home-cooked meals, their own beds, and most importantly, their families, much more than I. Christmas time will be my first occasion home, and afterwards, probably the end of the second term. Spring break isn’t nearly enough to warrant to pay the price of the plane ticket home, so I’ll be here, 4,242 miles away.
I’m not the only one. All around me, I see many other international students struggling. Struggling to fit in, struggling to figure out which way oncoming traffic is (that left side driving thing is still difficult, even a month in), and struggling to understand everything from the new grading system to the way the module system works.
It can feel like swimming upstream in a flooded river. Sometimes, you feel like you’re struggling and struggling but gaining no ground.
But struggling isn’t always a bad thing. When I called my mom for the first time, sniffling into the phone about how I should have stayed closer, she replied sagely: “our minds need stimulation. We need to get out of our comfort zones in order to continue to challenge and broaden our world. You would be bored if you were at home.” It’s hard, but it’s worth it. Because when we graduate, we’ll be proud to say we have lived on two continents: we’re more open to new ideas, we’re used to working and living in harmony with people from all sorts of backgrounds, and, most importantly, we’ll be adaptable.
And don’t get me wrong– I do love it here.
I’m glad I didn’t stay close. But I also didn’t realize how hard the adjustment would be sometimes. However, those feelings of homesickness do evaporate, and it’s important to try new things while you’re out in the world, because when else would you get such an amazing chance to do so? Try a new sport (for me, that’s horse polo, something that I would have never even thought of doing at home in my wildest dreams), join a strange club (I’m now on the wine tasting team– yes, that’s a real thing), or do something as simple as organizing a night out with your newfound friends.
Getting used to any new environment, especially one as crazy and challenging as the university experience, is hard for anybody, but it does present more challenges when you decide to try that university experience 4,242 miles away. Yes, you should know how big of a step you are taking, but if you are brave enough to do it– amazing things await.