It took fifteen minutes before it hit me: the uncomfortable realization that I was no longer in America.
All throughout college, I’d wanted to study abroad and travel the world. I thought it’d be the adventure of a lifetime. But that first day as an international student in China – as my taxi sped away from the airport and I became increasingly aware I could not read the street signs on the freeway, I was a storm of conflicting emotions.
A part of me wanted to wander the streets and test the broken Chinese I had taught myself from the app I had downloaded. A part of me wanted to lock myself in the nearest McDonald’s because it was the closest thing to home I could find.
For many of you, coming to America may elicit similar feelings. How do we learn our new world even as we are wrestling with feelings of nervousness and homesickness? Here are five things to consider:
Recognize that entering a new world is indeed a big deal.
Your instincts are right – you aren’t home! This may be the farthest you’ve ever been away from friends and family. There’s no shame in admitting how different everything feels. There’s nothing wrong with feeling anxious or even fearful as you explore this new place alone. Nothing is gained by pretending to be better than we are. It is only when we acknowledge the realities of our situation that we can face them head on.
Go slow – but do go!
Adaptation takes time. It’s impossible to process all these new experiences at once. However, don’t let the size of the task keep you from making daily steps forward. Even if they are small, be intentional to take actions every day to engage the world around you. Talk to a classmate who possesses a different home culture than you. Order an unfamiliar item from the menu. Get dropped off in a new part of town. Ask questions. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This is especially true when your journey is into a new world!
Find pockets of home…
Look for similarities in the world you know and the world you are learning. These places of intersection will greatly help your transition. You may even be surprised how certain traditions, foods, or festivals have followed you to the other side of the globe!
Finding a place in the city where you can engage with others who have the same home culture as you can also be helpful. Locating a place that reminds you of the home you have left can help anchor you as you navigate a sea of many changes.
…But don’t get stuck there!
The temptation when you’ve found something familiar is to stay there. Especially when you find a community of like individuals, it can be easy to stick with them and not venture out. But staying in your comfort zone doesn’t allow you to grow. Don’t cut yourself off from new relationships and experiences that might enrich your life.
Find friends to journey with
The most important thing is to surround yourself with allies who will assist you in your process of discovery. This may be same-culture friends who commit to learning the new culture alongside you. This may also be different-culture friends who help by teaching you of their home culture. These friends will encourage you to continue pressing in when things are hard. They will also remind you that the process of exploring a new world is ultimately rewarding and fun!