A Chinese student attending boarding school explained how excited she was about coming to the U.S. She did an internet exploration of the community she would be living in and couldn’t wait to leave. But she said, “As soon as I received the acceptance letter, it all became so real. I had a complete change of mind. I went from thinking this was going to be the greatest place to not wanting to leave.”
The “Leaving Stage” is the first stage we go through anytime we make a major life transition.
It typically begins the moment we are aware that this is really happening. Suddenly, it is no longer a dream, an idea, or a topic of discussion. It is actually real and happening. But it may suddenly feel like everything is happening too quickly.
Just like this Chinese student, you may not feel ready. You may be feeling nervous, excited, sad, anxious, scared, and thrilled all at the same time. These emotions are all very typical in the “Leaving Stage.”
You may have been full of excitement and anticipation of your upcoming adventure, but then the realities of what you would be losing set in.
You are leaving behind the friends and family that make up your support system; your favourite food, places to visit, hobbies, routines, roles, and responsibilities. You are losing your entire way of life – your culture and maybe even your identity to embark on this adventure. You may realize you know nothing about what life will be like in the U.S.
To be equipped for the adventure ahead of you, you need to be prepared. Think ahead of time what you would like to get out of this experience and make the most of it. What will you need to do or take with you in order to succeed?
Here are some suggestions other international students who have gone before you encourage you to think about:
- Don’t expect sameness; everything will be new and different.
- Have an open mind.
- Keep your own cultural identity. Be sure to leave enough room in your suitcase for things that remind you of home – photos, journals, and national costume. You are likely to find several opportunities at your school or in your community to demonstrate your culture to others, wear your national dress, dance, play music, or even cook national dishes.
- Expect to be uncomfortable from time to time – it is normal. Living with change is challenging. Most everything will be different for you from your living arrangements for the food, currency, transportation, cultural values, and more.
- Be willing to ask questions – lots of them! Why be clueless when you can simply ask? You will find most Americans want to be helpful.
- Keep in mind that it takes time to adjust. Don’t give up on something just because you aren’t used to it.
- Research the United States. Search the internet, read guidebooks, and talk with Americans. Learn about the government, geography, regions, people, food, and cultural values. This will help you: know what to expect; be able to have intelligent and informed conversations with Americans, and show Americans you are interested in them, their country, and their culture.
- Be prepared to discuss your own country. Americans are curious people and are likely to ask you about current events in your home country, what the political or educational system is like, and more.
- Expect to be changed.
There is no getting around it. This experience will grow you, mould you, broaden your horizons, and reshape the way you think about the world and others.
Travel and exposure to other peoples and their cultures open up not only our eyes but also our hearts and minds. They challenge us to think about the culture we were raised in, what we like about it, and what we would like to change.
You may want to consider starting a journal to write down all your thoughts, feelings, observations, and experiences during your time in the U.S. It will be interesting to look back on when you prepare to go home and see how your attitudes have changed, how you have grown, what did and experienced for the first time, and what you will miss about American life. It would be a private record of your own personal journey and a wonderful keepsake for all time.
Before you know it, all those uncomfortable feelings will pass and you will realize that you, once again have roles, routines, status, relationships, and good support systems in place. You may find there are many American cultural values you enjoy.
Special thanks to Tina L. Quick for providing us with this article. Tina is the author of two extraordinary books dedicated to international students going to study in America: Survive and Thrive: The International Student’s Guide to Succeeding in the U.S. and The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition.