When I meet another international student, something unique happens — I experience a special bond with them. We’ve both gone through crazy amounts of paperwork and experienced similar culture shocks. Even if we’re from completely opposite sides of the world and we have nothing else in common, we’re still happy to find each other. We are fellow aliens.
Here are some of my experiences with other international students that provoked this feeling of kinship.
The nuisance that is Fahrenheit
My first day of the fall semester, I went to get a reader from Copy Central with a girl I’d just met in class. On our way there, we were running out of conversation topics, so in an attempt to avoid an uncomfortable silence, I mentioned the weather.
“It’s pretty cold out today. I don’t know Fahrenheit, but it must be around 10 degrees Celsius,” I said.
Her face immediately lit up with excitement and she cried, “Are you international too?!”
Pretty soon (after we finished shitting on America for using Fahrenheit when most of the world has agreed upon Celsius), we talked endlessly about our cultures and the struggle of adapting to UC Berkeley.
One thing we can all agree on as internationals is that Fahrenheit is annoying as fuck.
Being repulsed by American food
When I first came to the United States, I was thrilled with all the fries, pastries and pizza in the dining halls. But pretty soon I was repulsed by all the junk food around me. After all, how can anyone eat that many french fries?
I was also constantly shocked at the enormous portions in this country. During orientation week, I went out to eat with a friend from Tehran who could not believe how big his slice of pizza was.
“In Tehran, this would be three slices!” he exclaimed.
Whenever I go out to eat with a group of international students, I usually hear at least one person say, “How in the world am I going to eat all this food?!”
American slang no one understands
Oftentimes, I’m completely and utterly confused with American slang phrases. Luckily, when I found international friends, I could vent about all of this and shamelessly talk about my illiteracy in American slang.
I remember my confusion when a friend was telling me about a party he’d gone to and he said, “People got so hyphy last night.”
Hyphy? I didn’t know if he meant high or drunk or turned on or what. And I didn’t really feel like asking, because sometimes you just don’t want to look ignorant to someone you recently met.
When I first heard the phrase “taking an L,” I thought people were talking about taking a dump. Although I’ve now heard this phrase nearly every day as a UC Berkeley student and I know that it actually means “taking a loss,” I still think it sounds bizarre.
College is hard for anyone who is living without their parents for the first time. But internationals like me know the pain of time differences and long flights — not to mention only seeing your family twice a year.
Going home for spring break or Thanksgiving isn’t really an option for many internationals, and it can be sad and lonely when we’re stuck on campus while everyone else is gone.
Many of us have families in completely different time zones, which makes keeping in touch even more difficult. One of my floormates is from China, and she often wakes up at 6 a.m. to talk to her boyfriend on the phone.
And even though there’s only a one-hour difference between Berkeley and Monterrey right now, the distance hits me hard when I try calling my parents at night and they’re already asleep.
Whenever I talk about home with an international student, I can see the nostalgia in their eyes, and I know they see it in mine. We both long to be surrounded by our culture once again, and we struggle with the knowledge that this won’t happen for a couple of months.
The best we can do now is hug, listen to each other and try to survive these crazy years of living miles and miles away from everything we’ve known.