I have spent the last 6 years of my life studying abroad in the US (and Australia for a semester) for boarding school and university. As I approach graduation and the looming anxieties of adulting and returning back with reverse culture shock, I thought I’d share some pieces of advice with anyone reading.
- Wanting to fit in is normal, but remember your truth
I am a brown hijabi who came to the US in a predominately white town with a majority white school; all I wanted to do was fit in. So I tried my best, even when it meant saying and doing things I didn’t really want to. I lost touch of who I was and what I stood for. And when I finally got back to my values, I ended up losing a lot of “friends” because I stopped assimilating to them. And yet I couldn’t be more grateful. That experience taught me that the truer I am to myself and my values and morals, the faster the toxic people who have yet to grow and learn leave. Which in turn means, the faster you get to meet like-minded people that are willing to grow with you.
- Experience the community around you
If you’re coming abroad to a country for 4+ years, you should want to learn about the place thoroughly. Learn about the politics in your city, the community issues that need awareness, and the cool local spots that need your support. Being silent on community issues just because you know you’ll end up leaving is a privilege. Standing up and giving back to the community is how you foster love and respect for the community. And by doing so, you’ll be exposed to a beautiful world of support and solidarity.
- Unfortunately, discrimination is everywhere, be safe and don’t be a bystander.
We all see the news nowadays. Accounts of racism, religious prejudice, homophobia, and sexism aren’t new by any means, but they are being exposed on social media more frequently now. It’s sad to say, but precautions need to be taken; this in no way suggests that if you do not take precautions then it’s you who is to blame, it’s just the sad reality of being a target. Here’re some things I do with my friends, and some tips I found online that I wish I employed earlier.
a. If you can, purchase some self defense tools online. This can be anything from a taser to a small can of hairspray (please confirm the legality of specific self defense tools in your state).
b. iMessage allows you to share your location with specific people, share them with those you trust. I use Whatsapp and share my live location whenever I get into a transportation service.
c. Before entering any transportation service, always confirm the license plate and the driver with the photo. When I get into the car, I always call a friend or send a voice note and verbally state out loud “Hey I am on my way, I’ll be there in [ETA].” I’ll usually throw in a random male’s name because that deters some offenders.
d. If you are lost walking outside, be it in broad daylight or at night, try to not look like it. Walk with confidence to any store and search your way from there.
e. Set up a health profile on your phone, or have it as part of your jewelry. This can help for when you get into an accident (knock on wood!!). Be it known allergy, prevalent medical history, medications, or basic emergency contact information, it can help save you.
- Branch out!
It’s very comforting to be around people from your own country or background, but you end up never really experiencing the new place you’re in. Don’t drop your friends for ‘foreign’ friends because that’s not cool at all, but do make more friends! Make your friend groups diverse and enriching so you really get to experience everything you want and need.
- Have fun
This seems like a weird advice to give, but just hear (or read) me out. I have lost out on a lot of opportunities because of my mental and physical health and it resulted in many regrets, anger, and sadness. Because of those feelings, I ended up losing out to opportunities that I could have and would have done. The more I think about the experiences that I missed out on, the more I lose new experiences right under my nose and it becomes a never ending cycle. So, you need to choose to end it. Only recently (and I’m talking a month-ago-recently) did I change my mindset and realize that those chances were not lost, they’re just pushed back. I’m still going to be able to see all the states I didn’t get a chance to because a certain pandemic closed off all my plans. I’m still going to be able to see a show at the Sydney Opera House, I’m still going to be able to go on a roadtrip with my friends, and more. I have to believe in that or else I’ll be in my own head and forget one of the biggest parts of a study abroad besides the actual education: having fun. So don’t forget, with all the hustle and bustle of school work and internships and health and finances, to have a bit of fun.
These tips are just the tip of the iceberg and are very generalized. I have way more tips and advice to give out at any time regarding roommates and cultural differences to financing your entire year, so please don’t hesitate to contact me with those questions. It’s crazy to think my undergraduate journey ends here, but I can’t wait for the next adventure :)