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Aug 02 2015
by Anoushka Bhat

The Struggles of Being an International Student in College

By Anoushka Bhat - Aug 02 2015

In about a month, I will be leaving the place I grew up in for 19 years to go to college across the world. I live in Dubai and this fall, I will be moving to the big and bustling New York City. Being a freshman in college is hard, but being a freshman in college in a completely different country is a whole other experience altogether. It’s definitely exciting, but it’s also intimidating. Even though my university has a fairly large percentage of international students, I will still be a minority on campus, making it slightly difficult to feel like I completely belong there. However, that's not all I have to endure as an international student.

Paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork


Moving continents is no easy feat. For starters, like most international students, I require a student visa. I don’t think many people understand just how hard it is to get a student visa in the U.S. The I-20, DS-160, visa appointments, financial statements, etc. are just some of the required documents that I need to have with me. The insane amounts of paperwork could frustrate just about anyone. At the end of it, I almost wondered why I didn’t just pick a university at home, especially when I saw how much more I had to pay for literally everything. Every moment until I get my F-1 student visa is a tense one, and only when that day arrives will my journey to college finally begin to feel real.

Why do baggage allowances even exist?


Unfortunately, I have a baggage allowance on my flight to New York. Therefore, I have a strict limit on what I can actually carry from home. It also means that I can’t really do much dorm shopping until I actually get to the city. The fear of paying for excess baggage will probably ensure that I leave a lot of my sentimental items back in my room at home, along with a sizable portion of my clothes and shoes. Although, technically it doesn’t even make sense to carry most of my clothes considering more than half of my wardrobe is completely useless. Dubai is for all intents and purposes a desert, which means I am basically unequipped for anything besides the summer. Yay!

"You speak English? And fluently? Woah!"


One of the misconceptions that people have about international students is that we have difficulty in speaking English. There are obviously some students from certain countries that might struggle, but the truth is most international students, including myself, speak English proficiently. We learn it as a first language in school, and we are given several tedious exams to prove our English language skills. It’s actually quite frustrating to repeatedly keep hearing, “Oh wow! Your English is actually good!” in a somewhat patronizing tone.

"Wait, what was that word you just said?"


Growing up in a different country means developing my own slang and terminology that I have incorporated into my daily vocabulary. As an Indian-Dubai kid, that can mean anything from a blend of Hindi and Arabic words to something my friends and I made up in high school. People in college won’t quite get my terms, and in turn, they will have their own colloquialisms that I won’t understand. Additionally, pronunciations and spellings tend to get the better of me; I’ve had to start getting used to using American English, even though throughout school I studied under the British curriculum.

You get to hear some ridiculous stereotypes.


Being an international student is just another opportunity for stereotyping to occur. For instance, the most common notion about people in Dubai is that we all are unbelievably wealthy with our Ferraris and Lamborghinis and our penthouse suite on the topmost floor of the world’s tallest building. In reality, most people in Dubai are not filthy rich or living ostentatiously. I myself live a fairly ordinary life, and nothing like what people imagine when they hear I'm from Dubai. To make it worse, not only do I get to entertain the false ideas about Dubai, I also get to face the classic Indian ones. "Do you speak Hindu? Is Dubai in India? India's basically just all about Bollywood, right?" There are always many, many other stereotypes floating around; some nice and others not so much. In all honesty, they don’t really matter, but it's just another thing international students tend to hear.

Homesickness really sucks.


The most difficult part of being an international student is the distance from home to college. I live approximately 6,853 miles from New York City. That’s a solid 14 hours away on a direct flight. Getting homesick is going to be so much harder; overcoming the time difference, not being able to take a cheap train or flight when I miss my mom or friends, not getting my fix of authentic Arabic and Indian food and trying to get used to something other than 40 degrees Celsuis weather are some of the things that are going to affect me immeasurably. Technology will help me to stay in touch with loved ones at home, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have to struggle with bad Skype connections, missed messages on WhatsApp and conflicting schedules. I know there are going to be so many days when all I want to do is just go home and curl up in my own room with a classic Dubai shawarma.

It's going to be OK!


Being so far away from home and everything I’ve grown up with is no doubt difficult, but I can only begin to imagine the experiences and the knowledge I’ll gain from these four years abroad. No, it’s not going to be easy. No, I won’t always fit in or feel completely at home; sometimes I might not even feel like I really have a home anymore. However, that’s no reason to let fear or intimidation get the better of me. I’m going to study in what’s supposedly the best city in the world. It took a lot of hard work from both my mom and myself to get me where I am. That’s enough of a motivator for me, and I know that amidst the difficulties I may face, I can make it. This is another adventure in my life, and I'm going to embrace every bit of it.

Lead Image Credit: Anoushka Bhat

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Anoushka Bhat - New York University

Anoushka Bhat is a sophomore at New York University, majoring in Economics. She is fluent in sarcasm and loves travel, books, music and coffee. She plans to capture her college adventures through articles and photography. Follow her Instagram @anoushkabhat!

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