I d on’ t think I’ve ever cried more than I did during the week of International Student Orientation . I think it’s safe to say that anyone who’s coming to Penn is leaving so much behind, but as an international student, I felt like I was leaving much more than a typical domestic freshman. My family, my home, my culture are all in Lebanon, seven time zones away now.
No family member came with me when I came to Penn for the first time this summer. A 16-hour flight later, I made it to the airport and managed to commute to Penn without being greeted by a university staff member when I landed. Lucky for me, I wasn’t one of the international students who has never traveled before. The fear was familiar, to a certain extent.
I moved in on Aug. 21 , one of the later move-in days. I think that’s why orientation felt so rushed and overwhelming. Meeting other international students meant we could bond over what we were going through: the homesickness, the culture shock and the time difference. It just all ended so fast: Soon enough, events from ISO overlapped with NSO, and then ISO was over. I wasn’t ready for NSO when it happened. I would have preferred getting to know more international students before taking on the rest of the Class of 2018. In between getting over the jet lag , settling into this unfamiliar campus and city and meeting so many people, I just wanted to go back to my room.
My room — that wasn’t much fun either. Of course, it was a shrine to Lebanon and overflowing with pictures from home. More than I would have liked, I’d end up crying whenever I stared at these pictures for too long. Obviously, it wasn’t healthy to stay in my room for too long, but where was I supposed to go once NSO was over? I keep hearing suggestions to find a safe space at Penn at the cultural centers, but none of them felt like a place I could belong to. In fact, I come from a country where racially identifying myself was very uncommon. Even if this wasn’t the case, I’m not Asian, Latino, black , LGBT or any other minority. Where do people like me go?
It was hard adjusting to Penn. After two weeks, I was set on going home. I had decided that Penn wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want to be Americanized. I wanted to stay true to my identity. I wanted to go back home to Lebanon. All of the upperclassmen I knew kept trying to convince me not to. I just wouldn’t listen to them. I think advice — serious life-changing advice — always sounds more convincing from an adult. There was no one here at Penn for me to do that, so it took my advisor from home, my EducationUSA advisor at AMIDEAST Lebanon, for me to give Penn a chance.
Three weeks into the semester I learned I wasn’t the only one who was having a hard time fitting in. The Assembly of International Students hosted “Around the World in 80 Cuisines,” an open discussion where international freshmen like me shared their experiences so far. It was heartwarming to hear their stories, their experiences with confusing Fahrenheit and Celsius, being asked silly questions and even struggling with finding good food from home. I felt empowered at that event, as if I had connected with everyone in that room on a different level. It was therapeutic almost, and hopefully it was the first sign of how things will gradually get better.
Right now, I’m giving my dream school a second chance, even though the lack of resources available for international students like me has been disappointing. Hopefully, more events like AIS’s last one are coming my way. Here’s to keeping an open mind and asking Penn to hit me with its best shot.
Ghinwa Moujaes is a College freshman from Lebanon. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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