Staff writer Dakshina Chetti explores the diverse stories of international students at Columbia, particularly the idea of home and recreating a sense of home. Quality photos with HONY-level of inspiration included.
Columbia is commended at-large for having one of the most diverse, accepting, and distinct student bodies. Speaking as an international student, and reflecting upon the horror-story that was application season, I distinctly remember thinking of Columbia as a sort of double rainbow—should I be accepted (*shudder*), not only would I have the opportunity to benefit from a (literally) world-class education, but I would be doing so in one of most eclectic cities (and institutions).
Looking back, the transition was not without its ups and downs. I’m from Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of, well, nothing much, boasting a paltry population of just over a million. Thus, I’m relatively accustomed to a general level of incredulity when I tell people where I’m from. For the most part, it doesn’t affect me, because I have a close-knit circle of people, family or otherwise, with whom I am able to share a common experience. Settling into life as a Columbia student was more of an adjustment than I anticipated; home is home, and being 18+ hours away from all of it can become emotionally taxing. I am so fortunate to have been roomed in Furnald, which is (no hyperbole intended) teeming with international students. In an effort to further explore this common experience, I embarked on a late-night expedition to find out more about the international student’s plight to reconstruct a sense of “home.” Talking to other international students in my building, it is apparent that we are all coping a little differently: doing things here and there in an attempt to adjust to a drastically different environment, but all the same, trying to recreate a sense of belonging.
I’ve included some of their stories here.
“Being at Columbia, I’ve come to feel at home by talking to other people in the sense that I have friends who are around my floor or around Columbia who are so pleased to see new people and talk to them as new friends. And that’s so different from my life before, or even the first time I came to the US. My Thai society…okay, well, I’m very fortunate to know a lot of Thai people around Columbia and they are very welcoming, especially when you feel like ‘okay, right now I cannot adjust to US culture’, and we can just talk about what’s going on, and it helps us create a home at Columbia where we feel welcome and comfortable.”
“I’m from Nepal, and moving to Columbia was really different from home, but I have spent the past years at a boarding school in New Mexico. Either way, being at Columbia was a shift because it’s so independent here. I miss my family a lot, even though it’s been two years, so to make myself feel more at home, I make friends with people whom I feel like I can share my life, and I have a roommate, so I feel like I can talk to her about these things. I try to Skype my parents for 20 minutes every day, so I know what’s going on in the house, who’s getting married to whom, that sort of thing. I brought some food from Nepal, like these noodles that you can eat raw. You can get it in NYC, but it’s fake, so I brought some, and that reminds me of home.”
“I actually went to high school in the US, so I am used to the language and education. Still, I’m so glad I chose a double because we help each other out, so it hasn’t been too much of an adjustment for me in terms of feeling at home. But…this is definitely a transition for me. I’m from China: Shanghai. I also connect with other classmates using Facebook or texting, because I have friends from my middle school back home that are also going to college in the US, so we keep in touch. Even at Columbia, I’ve made friends from the same area, and we know what we’re going through so it’s okay.”
“I actually already feel like Columbia is my new home. I don’t really miss my parents because we FaceTime, and I’ve made Columbia my home by making friends from all over the world because this is such a diverse community. And also, being in New York, there are so many cultural things to do, I mean, I’m from Thailand so if I want to go out and eat, I can always go out for Thai food. Plus, I’m a member of the Thai club, and it enables Thai students to connect and help each other, and we’ve already had meetings and a potluck, so I consider that to be part of my sense of creating home and community as well.”