I get it. As I write this, I am trying to transport myself back to my international high school in Quito, Ecuador. More than anything, I remember the emotions behind the possibility of studying somewhere far away from home. Was it going to be as exciting as I thought it would be? Terrifying? How far away is too far away? What was I even doing?!
At that point in my life, my brother was already in college in the United States. He seemed to be doing fine, seemed to be learning a lot and meeting many new people. I figured I could have the same experience…right? My international school also really encouraged its students to study abroad so in many ways this was part of my culture already. I was supposed to feel ready, so before I knew it, I said goodbye to my friends, my family, to speaking my native language most of the time, my culture, and everything related to home. This of course, lead me question myself. What had I done?!
I was fortunate enough that my parents were able to drop me off at college. This goodbye was the hardest, but it didn’t hurt half as bad as I thought it would and here’s why. My experience is like the one at Tufts, where you will be VERY busy right from the beginning. I encourage you to take a look at our pre-orientation programs to see examples of some of the possibilities that await you right when you get to campus! I immediately realized that staying busy was the key to an easier transition. Sure, I had moments where I felt a bit homesick, but the truth is, I did not feel alone. Remember and trust that there are more international students around you (more than you think!) and everyone is trying their best to find their place in a new environment. Those were important lessons for me to learn from the start: I wasn’t alone, and I had to keep busy.
Those lessons kept me sane for the first weeks in college, but then events like Parents and Family Weekend happened. My family was never able to attend these weekends, so I had to find ways to still feel part of something. Around this time my first year, I learned another lesson: the power of a support system. It was obvious that my usual support system was no longer physically there. So, like Tufts students, you turn to your community and see who is in it. Maybe in your case it will be the people who live in your dorm, the classmates you do research with, people that are part of the International Club (I-Club) or any other club you get to join. Finding your community will be critical to your time at Tufts. However, it’s important to note that community is not defined by people who are from the same background or have the same interests. Community can be people with compatible personalities or people who understand your multiple identities. If you think about it, your community will be your new chosen family for the next four years.
I think this is a good time as any to mention that studying far away from home will be the best way to teach you about letting go of all expectations. It took me a while to master that skill as an international student, but I am glad I did. I did have to accept things like eating dinner around 6pm (2.5 hours earlier than what I was used to) or learning about sports that I had never watched before (what is lacrosse?). I learned that there was nothing wrong with the fact that I would be speaking in English 90% of my day instead of the other way around. New realities enabled me to develop a sense of resilience. Instead of letting those new realities get the best of me, I learned to embrace them. That’s not to say I was perfect and that all my days were happy or that I was hardly ever homesick. I just remember knowing this then (and I know this now), those were skills I acquired because of my decision to study far away. I would not be the same person today if I did not have the opportunity to leave home.
“To leave home”. I debated writing that sentence the way I did. I guess it’s because sure, in a literal sense, I did leave home. But in many ways, home lived as strongly as ever within me during my time away in college. To do it is to be brave and to jump into the unknown. I like to believe if we have the privilege and opportunity, it can’t hurt to try something new when you are so young. Even now in my late 20s, I have never regretted my decision to study far away from home. Remember, home can always be more than one place and more than one person. And eating dinner at 6pm doesn’t bother me anymore.