Getting here was a journey in itself: six hours to Istanbul, another twelve to Miami. By the end of it I had felt nauseous and unsettled, my stomach queasy and my skin pale. I had wanted nothing more than to lay in bed and be free of the tortures of jet lag. My arrival here had been surreal - after years of discussing college life in America, ACTs, APs and bright brochures, a new part of my life was finally about to begin.
The first week I had spent in America had been another journey. Up close, it had looked so similar, yet it missed the mark when it came to the familiarities and comforts of Kuwait. Gone were the surrounding echoes of Arabic, the aromatic food I had known my whole life, the consistency with which my friends and I would talk to one another; it had been replaced by burgers, public transportation and an eagerness to finally meet new people in such a new place. I felt overwhelmed by all the things there were to do and see.
Yet at the same time, I felt completely alien in this new world. I became frustrated whenever the Arabic accent I never even knew I had would confuse people. I hated going so long without seeing my house or my friends from school. I missed my grandmother, and the fact that I wouldn’t see her until December upset me. I had fears that I wouldn’t be able to make it work here and would spend forever feeling apprehensive and foreign.
I joined my college’s Class of 2020 Facebook group, texted people in my major and made far-away plans to meet up with tons of different people I found online (an unrealistic goal for a school of 3,000+ students), and yet my excitement had begun to fizzle after only two weeks in the States. None of these relationships seemed as concrete as the ones I had with my friends from Kuwait, and it seemed so easy to get lost in the magnitude of such a big university. I found myself feeling as if I didn’t belong, and the “international student” label (which had never been applied to me in the past) had only affected me more.
I found myself seeking comfort in the things that I had known before. I tried to join a popular International Relations club, read my favorite books all over again and began to prepare myself for my classes and syllabus week. Yet I kept feeling as if the beginning of my college experience were missing something vital, as if it were absent of the raw enthusiasm I kept seeing around me.
It was a conversation I’d had with my grandmother over the phone that had finally convinced me to let go of my apprehension and nervousness. After spending my first night in my new dorm room, I had called her to let her know how I was and describe my campus to her. She’d spent the entire time telling me how successful I was going to become, her words of encouragement were something I’d been missing these past four months.
Knowing that she was confident in what I could do and how I could adapt to life outside of Kuwait had given me all the reassurance I’d ever need. From miles and oceans and continents away, she’d managed to silence my doubts and remind me of why I’d come here to begin with - not to feel upset and out of place, but to learn more than I ever had before and better my life in every possible way.
Seeing things from this perspective had made me excited again; I felt bright and energetic on my first day of classes and started introducing myself to more and more people. I had managed to meet people who grew up with similar backgrounds and in familiar countries, but I also branched out and spoke to people whose lives and thoughts were completely different.
I know that America may always feel big and intimidating, and that sometimes it might get hard being far away from home and I may feel tempted to turn back to the doubts and fears I’d had earlier. But I’d already made the first of many journeys, and what’s important is actually taking the time to appreciate where it’s taken me so far.
Lead Image Credit: Averie Woodard on Unsplash