Monday, December 16, 2013

The 10 phases in an International Student's Life

Did you notice time sneaking off? ‘Cause I didn’t and IT’S CHRISTMAS BREAK ALREADY! AAAAAAH!

Okay, I am being over-dramatic (just the Indian in me).  But seriously, where did the two months go? Just seems like yesterday that I (nervously) boarded a plane to get me to this land of grey skies and endless streams of tea. If there is one word to explain how it has been so far I’d say- Rollercoaster Ride. Okay that’s two words, but you’ll forgive me, won’t you?

I have been in a pensive mood today. And my deep, deeeep thought have led to this finding- An international student’s life is similar to a lunar cycle. Our feeling for the place we are in wax and wane according to how far we are into the term. Not convinced? Here’s proof then:

Phase 1: PRE-DEPARTURE-NERVOUS EXCITEMENT: This is when you are so, absolutely excited that you are actually terrified. It’s like a million butterflies- with baby butterflies in their stomachs- doing back-flips in your stomach. You have a million things running through your mind as you pack your bags for one year abroad. You are excited about meeting new people and at the same time horrified at the prospect of not making any friends at all. In my case I atleast had the stand by option of having Chalani as my room mate. Knowing someone for three years classifies them as a friend, right? ( Sorry, Chal, you were just a backup). This phase also involves endless nightmares about embarrassing yourself in your new class.

Phase 2: ON ARRIVAL- THIS IS IT! : This is when you land and realize that your months of preparation, endless editing of personal statements, and follow up emails begging for reference letters has led up to this moment. I remember feeling so incredibly blessed to have this great opportunity at hand. And boy was I hyper (and the fact that I’d demolished a large pack of m&ms in the flight did not help).

Phase 3: SETTLING IN: WHAT NOW?: I don’t know if I am the only one who feels this, but every time I am in a new place and I finish unpacking, I feel unhinged. It’s that moment when you finish making your bed, sit down and just sigh- What now? Suddenly, you are overwhelmed with homesickness which soon leads to a panic attack. All your thought are in CAPITALS. ‘WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE?’ ‘OMG, WHY DID I LEAVE HOME TO COME HERE OF ALL PLACES?’ ‘I AM GOING TO FAIL MY DEGREE’ ‘IAMTAKINGTHENEXTFLIGHTHOMENOW’ (this is when you are so upset that you forget to space your thoughts). This isn’t a pretty phase and it doesn’t help one bit that when you look outside your window all you can see is grey skies and ugly brown backs of buildings (Before coming I had this huge fantasy that I’ll get a room with a huge window with a comfortable ledge where I could just sit for hours and look at the London eye or Big Ben. Fat chance).

The view I thought I'd have

Sad Reality

Phase 4: NEW BEGINNINGS: The first week here was a flurry of orientations and inductions. I also managed to collect a drawer full of pamphlets, leaflets, maps; enough to have killed a few trees. These meetings are fun because you meet new people (and people, you will later realize, you won’t meet again for the rest of the term). You feel good knowing that there are others in the same boat and you manage to get yourself excited about your course again.

Phase 5: CLASSES BEGIN: LOSING YOURSELF: I remember my first class vividly. It was a 10 am class which I was so nervous about that I was waiting outside well over an hour before it began. I was literally shivering. I went in, with 50 other students, and let panic awash me as I saw a sea of new faces. It’s funny because I’ve faced this situation a dozen times already (I’ve studied in about 10 schools!) and it never fails to overwhelm me. There is that moment when you think you will never find your feet again, but you take a deep breath and dive in anyway.

Phase 6: THAT-MOMENT-WHEN-YOU-REALIZE-YOUR-PREVIOUS-DEGREE-WAS-A-JOKE-AND YOU-ARE-IN-FACT-THE-DUMBEST-PERSON-ON-EARTH: I have a BA in Communication Studies and Literature so, naturally, I was a little under-confident about pursuing a Masters in Political Science. This feeling magnified a thousand fold and shattered my self-esteem to bits after my first seminar. It’s a wonder I didn’t cry in the class because I-WAS-LOST. I felt like a 5 year old sitting in on a conversation among adults. I had NO CLUE whatsoever about what they were talking about and all I wanted to do was wish that I could morph into an Ostrich so I could bury myself and not see any of this. This feeling will subsequently fade only to reappear mid-term when you are left anchor-less in a sea of readings which are Greek to you.

Phase 7: FINDING YOUR FEET: ‘MAYBE I CAN DO IT AFTERALL’: This is around 3 weeks into the term when you realize it’s not so tough after all. You begin to enjoy your course and what you are studying genuinely interests you. This is my favourite bit (duh!) because I feel like all this was worth the struggle. I feel this intense urge to study to know more. My friend Misha’ari recently wrote about this feeling- Philomathy: "to love learning; to seek acquisition of knowledge and facts." It’s really a wonderful thing to experience! I felt so happy and grateful that I really enjoyed what I was doing.

Phase 8: STRESS BUILD- UP AND LETTING OFF STEAM: This is something I am really embarrassed about- I get stressed easily. If I have multiple things to do I sometimes blank out and go crazy. This happened a little after mid-term when I felt so over-burdened with readings (stop rolling your eyes!) that I just broke down. I had a good crying session and an hour long conversation with my dad, telling him I can’t do this anymore. The sob session did end eventually. I think it’s a weird coping mechanism. This is how I let off steam and it does help me get back on track.

What helped me let off steam

Phase 9: EXPLORING NEW PLACES: This is one of my favourites bits. It’s after all the drama and letting-off-steam episodes when I suddenly realize that I am living in the heart of London. My hall is a stone’s throw away from Trafalgar Square and I am about 10 steps away from the Thames. So why the hell am I sweating the small stuff?!

I like taking detours from my way back from uni and just checking out random nooks and corners of London. I am big on aimless wandering, where I just walk, ignoring all maps,with no place in mind. And this is the best way to really ‘feel’ a new place because, for some weird reason, I don't like mapping places geographically and fragmenting them with streets and signs. I like to map them with what I feel when I am there. It’s difficult to explain. It’s like getting a sense of something by running your hands over its bumps, ridges and crevices instead of actually seeing it. 

My memories of places are peppered with people and obscure spots instead of landmarks. What I tend to remember is sipping on steaming coffee in a small café and listening in on an old couple’s banter, after a long walk in the cold. What I cherish more than the standard tourist picture is chancing upon cozy second hand bookstores, hidden amongst bright shops selling novelty souvenirs. And what I enjoy most here is the conversations I have with random people in the most unexpected of places. My favourite one was at the supermarket(!) when this old lady taught me how to choose fresh bread by feeling its crust. She then told me that she learnt it from her grandfather and uncle who were both bakers. I never met her again, but I’ll still remember that instance because it is a wonder, when you think about it, that two strangers, from different spheres of life, can meet and touch each others’ lives for the briefest of moments.

Phase 10:GETTING COMFORTABLE: FORMING A ROUTINE:  There’s a tendency for things to fall into place when you are not looking. You will not realize that your life has sorted itself into a semi-formed routine that you enact everyday. Wake up- Have a strong cuppa coffee- Facebook-Walk to Uni- Pretend to study- walk back- fall asleep on your readings. This happens without your knowledge. And it’s a nice feeling when you get a drift of what’s going on. You are finally comfortable. In this huge city, with its grey skies, wet roads and polite people, you have finally found a spot for yourself. It’s comfortable in the sense that it grows on you. In the sense that you forget the discomfort before you found it. And you realize that you are happy. For that moment at least. 

1 comment:

  1. Right, now if we could test these phases this on a good enough sample- say 200+- it would work out to be my PhD thesis on cross-cultural adaptation!