When I left home in July to come to Syracuse, it was the first time I was going to be away from home and my family… the first time I was going to be completely by myself. It feels like only yesterday when I had made my admission decision and the anticipation of leaving home excited me. It gave me an idea of an independent life and I was already making plans for what I was going to do with my newfound independence. By June 2014, that excitement vanished. I was anxious, unsure and sometimes, terrified about living alone.
I still remember the day I waved goodbye to my family at the airport. My face was red and puffy from the hours of crying. I was going to miss home so much! I remember the reluctant byes, the seemingly unending hugs and my sister holding my hand and refusing to let go. I remember moving into my apartment… how much I tried to make it look like my surroundings back at home! I moved in to an apartment with an American student. She wasn’t home the day I moved in, but she had left a ‘Welcome Home’ card and cookies for me on the counter. That gesture made my day and somehow, I didn’t feel so homesick that day.
I remember the first day I met the people who I was going to spend the next two years with. It was at the kick-off social before Orientation. There were so many hellos, so many names and so much ice cream! We were chatting, laughing and sharing stories from home. That evening, when I got back home, I knew I was going to have an awesome experience with all my new classmates.
I remember the first day of classes. Words cannot explain the excitement that filled me when walking into the building and into my first class. Between the introductions from the professors and formally speaking about our background, I was in overall awe of the people I was going to be in class with. They came from so many different places, with diverse cultures and rich experiences that I was overjoyed with what I was going to be learning and who I was going to be learning it with.
I remember celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi. The enthusiasm from the non-Indian students in learning our religion, practices and culture and the feeling of sharing and celebration that all of us felt that day was pure joy. I remember celebrating each of my classmates birthdays in class. The planning, the surprises, the cakes, the laughter and the fun!
I remember the excitement the American students showed when they took us to the SU Football games, to apple picking and pumpkin carving! I remember truly appreciating the “typical” things college students do here in the states… and I have to admit, I loved it!
I remember the hundreds of club meetings, the speeches, the inspiration, the hands-on projects, the ideas, the team work, the celebratory pictures and free pizza. I remember studying for exams, preparing for project deadlines and co-curricular commitments. I remember how as a class, we solved data analytics problems in our WhatsApp group, sharing notes at wee hours of the morning and coming into exams looking like zombies.
I remember saying my goodbyes leading into winter break. Looking back now, the past four months have been transformational for me. I’ve learned to be independent, to make decisions and to be accountable for those decisions. I’ve learned that with freedom comes a huge responsibility; that being alone doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you like. It actually teaches you to take responsibility for yourself.
I’ve understood that when you’re so far from home, the people around you become your greatest strength. I have found love, acceptance and a new family in my friends. We have been each other’s guardians and support systems and I know that these relationships will last for a long, long time.
I’ve learned so much from the wide ranging experiences of my classmates who are so different from me. I’ve learned so many new things about so many different cultures, religions, beliefs and practices. I have found inspiration, excitement and happiness sharing my day-to-day life with these people. I’ve learned that you thrive, learn and grow when you recognize and appreciate your differences. To understand how wonderful it is to remember your own roots and where you came from and how integral it is to portray it in its richness to everyone you encounter.
I’ve learned that the things that challenge you are the things that change you. They make you work harder, push you to make responsible choices, help you hold on when things seem to go downhill and give you the most exhilarating joy when you succeed.
Most importantly, I’ve learned that growing up means learning to listen to your spirit and chasing those dreams you were once afraid to chase.