My American days!
A few years back, on a wearily normal day, my father declared that I should attend a boarding school for my eleventh grade and later move to the US to pursue my studies. It sounded fanciful and almost impossible for the type of child that I was. Clinging to my parents for everything, I would prefer to stay indifferent towards the basic practicality required for sustaining a normal life. My elder sibling firmly believed, my life was running on wheels solely run by others. However, here I am, an entire-day-of-flight away from the very people who would run the wheels of my life for me.
Running the wheels for myself has not been very easy. Now that I have to do it on my own, I have started realizing that there are many components to it. Back in Nepal, where, it is completely normal for children to stay with their parents until they get married or even after that, I always had someone to help me solve my problems. As unconventional as it might sound, it is not outlandish to find qualified, working-age people still rely on their parents for something as trivial as their daily expenditures. So, America, where, cases of parents dragging their eighteen-year-olds to court for still wanting to live in their houses, are not merely trolls, is a country, completely different from my own. Individualism, which is probably one of the core identities of the Americans to the outside world, would justify such behavior. Having come from a country where such acts would be frowned upon, understanding individualism has been fairly tricky for me.
I believe, understanding individualism has become critical for myself because an ignorance to it has been a notable hindrance. It took me quite some time to realize that the connections made here can vary exceptionally than what I was accustomed to. While my naiveté towards the use of slangs and common contexts might have had a significant role, strangely, I cannot go past small talks with the majority of Americans I know. I am often left bewildered at my inability to make more meaningful human connections. My idea, that Americans are individualists that has fairly rooted itself in my mind, is partly to blame for this. Although this idea was present from a while ago, some behaviors reinforced its credibility during my earlier days at IWU.
In the initial days, it took me by surprise that many people here preferred to eat alone. Yet, individualism made it readily comprehensible. In contrast, eating, back home is like a festival in its own right and hence, Nepalese cannot overemphasize the importance of eating together. I could never imagine having dinner alone, but for my initial days on campus, my phone was my only company at dinner. I would have very much liked a company but I was defiant in joining a random group for I was not sure that I would be able to fit in. It is interesting how something as trivial as this could inevitably make me feel miserable and make the adaptation phase even harder.
Food happened to be another dissident in my aspirations of a smoother adaptation into this newer culture that I was introduced to. Like any typical Nepalese, I had been eating rice and curry, two times a day, almost every day, for all my life. The sudden absence of the food that I had grown so comfortable with over so many years, felt almost like a tragic departure. Frustrations regarding food were usual in my first few weeks at the campus. Frustrations casually built up and often left me feeling like a loner in a strange land with no one to turn to. At that point, all the newness would just feel tiresome and because I would then foolishly feel like I had to handle it myself, I would not even consider sharing all the melancholy with my family. Finally, I comprehend that it was certainly a bad judgment and things could have been handled better.
After a few months here as an international student, I have started realizing how small things matter a great deal and have exhilarating consequences. I never knew a bowl of rice and curry could make me cry of happiness. I had never comprehended that a single comment of appreciation from a professor would make my day or that I would enthusiastically wait until 5:15 in the evening to go and have dinner with my friends. America made me realize the importance of a hug from a person I knew actually cared. It has made me realize that people thrive through warm human contacts and are just melancholic duty-machines without it. It has given me bad times but I have learnt to take lessons from them and hopefully I am now able to apply them, need be. All in all, America in itself, has been a great teacher.
by Richa Sapkota, ’22