Written by Chhavi Nahata, Stanford University, College Contact Counselor
When I was attending workshops back home in India, and talking to students from Stanford to prepare as much as possible to move across the world to go to University, there were too many things to make a note of. A story that has stuck with me to this date is when a Stanford graduate from South India, who came to begin her startup, shared her experience from her first day on campus during NSO. She said that she ended up at the wrong location, at the wrong time for her orientation, and had to come to campus in a very very expensive Uber and felt like the world was ending. It was at this very moment that she set a ten-minute timer, sat on a bench, and cried her heart out. Then, when those ten minutes were up, she got up and proceeded to do damage control.
There’s a lot of newness when it comes to social and cultural changes abroad. The ground floor is the first floor, coins, and currency are different, people drive on the right not left and you pay your bill at someone’s birthday dinner. I watched, learned, adapted, pondered, and accepted so many things.
My biggest takeaways so far have been, firstly, to pack the food that you can only get at home. I’m a foodie and used to tons of spices and specific lentils in my diet. So set aside some space in the two suitcases you'll pack your life into with all of your favorite homemade snacks and easy-to-make food items. This will make the homesickness a lot better initially, I promise.
Secondly, since Uber costs in America are pretty expensive, it's helpful to get your driver’s license or be comfortable using public transport. You can also research local services that are specifically discounted for students. For example, the Palo Alto link provides rides to students anywhere in Palo Alto for just 50 cents. These things have saved me a lot of time and money!
The third one is to reach out to family, friends, or even far-off connections near you when you’re in college. Living on campus can sometimes feel like living in a bubble. You see the same people, who live in your room and eat in the same dining halls. Meeting relatives and making conversation with people outside of school feels very refreshing and always gives me a much-needed reality check. The first quarter/semester is probably the hardest, but these contacts will make you feel warm, loved, and cared for. Everyone loves hanging out with college kids, trust me!
Lastly, join clubs and organizations that make you feel close to home. That could be a contemporary dance group or a weekly religious texts reading club. Being around people from your community and talking to them in your mother tongue is truly a heartwarming moment for an international student. It makes you value your family, home, and ability to speak a different language a lot more, as well as brings you closer to people very quickly.
The most important thing I would say is to always have an open mind and have fun making friends with people from all over the world. At college, you have the opportunity to learn from your peers and grow so many different branches of your tree. So say yes more than you would say no when it comes to exploring new avenues. After all, these are the years to discover the things you never imagined yourself doing and slowly fall in love with them. All the best for the most glorious years of your life!