Nothing really prepares you for it. One minute you’re a scrawny little kid trying to get some sort of respectable score in your SAT’s , and the next you’re off to see your travel agent, dressed in your Sunday best, and hoping to buy the cheapest plane tickets that you can find. It’s all a big roller coaster, one that you've boarded, and whether you like it or not, one that’ll take you bursting into the next phase of your life.
The experience is especially unique for international students. Not only do they have to cater to a demanding college life, but also integrate themselves into a completely different culture, adjust to the ethical and moral norms of a new society, but also ensure that they do not attribute to themselves any form of social awkwardness.
Though it may seem minute, the cultural difference here presents a great challenge. Actions deemed favorable in one culture may be frowned upon in others. Simple actions can have repercussions that you never would have imagined. For example, keeping your shoes on when visiting a friend’s house. While you think you’re doing the world a favor by keeping your socks under wraps, most Asian and Caribbean cultures expect you to take your shoes off when entering someone’s home. Doing otherwise may simply be shrugged off as immature or may even be interpreted as you demeaning someone’s hospitality. None of us really want that. So my advice for all those flying international; brush up on the values of other cultures you might interact with.
Not all change is implicit, however. The obvious can also be a bit of a shocker. Besides the beautiful setting of the campus, its close proximity to downtown Boston means that high rises, skyscrapers, and a hub of activity will be present all around. Navigating this labyrinth of social activities while balancing academics and sports will present itself as quite the challenge. The Medford area is known to be the epicenter of various activities from talented musicians filling the streets with their music to larger university events. Try not to let the tourist in yourselves out guys.
The actual academics also present a great source of discomfort. Like it or not, the diversity of international students also means that the individuals on campus will be the product of multiple teaching philosophies that govern the education system within their own countries. They may have given their high school examinations to different examination bodies, all of whom prepare a person for life in their own respective regions of the world. It is not uncommon for international students to feel the tremendous pressure of adjusting to a new teaching ideology all the while maintaining their performance. To this end, the summer vacations before you enter college may be the last opportunity to adjust to the new system. My advice: always be open to new ideas.
Another challenge to international students is a bit more personal: Home-sickness. Come on, none of us really want to leave our homes, the places where we can just be ourselves, where we know everything, and where we feel safe. College, however, is as much about building the personalities of students as much as it’s about sculpting them into future professionals. It provides a great opportunity to experience the different aspects of life. We all understand that. Yet, going thousands of miles away from home, to an unknown location, without the company of friends, ought to make everyone nervous. The challenge then is to be able to adapt and overcome, to be determined in your path, and to embrace the unknown as your own.
Though the problems of going abroad into the unknown may seem as major obstacles, there is an underlying sense of mutual trust. We’re all jumbos after all. Not knowing the effects of a decision is the greatest risk a person might take, but trust in yourself and those who will be part of your community is key.
Let’s make Tufts our new home.