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Coming to America

In the fall, Professor Sweet taught a class endearingly called Internet Content Marketing. In this course, students learned the importance of tailoring content to particular audiences in order to make a profit or showcase credibility. Towards the end of the semester, Professor Sweet asked the students to put their lessons into practice and write articles for this blog. As the editor of this site, I had the awesome opportunity to read all of these articles and choose the ones that I thought our readers would find most interesting. This particular piece is by Zeke Hoole, he talks about his experience being an international student for those who are nervous about making the transition from home to Grove City. Enjoy!

You there.

Yes, you.

You; a young, knowledge hungry, opportunity seeking teenager trying to find a college to commit yourself to, and perhaps knowingly or perhaps unknowingly – you have stumbled across the name of this small, Christian college buried in the middle of Western Pennsylvania called Grove City College. College is a new, nerve-wracking, often terrifying experience to anyone – but to you it is even more than that. For you this also includes traveling far from your home, from your family and far from the friends and places you have been so accustomed to all your life. And that is truly terrifying.  Trust me, I know.

Because three years ago, I was you.

I spent my childhood growing up in Asia; being born in Sri Lanka and then spending my growing years between there and the country of Malaysia. Given the lacking standards of College level education in those parts of the world, I had always known that I would have to look for educational institutions abroad. After a long and interesting period of narrowing down colleges (a story for another time), I was set on going to Grove City College. The application process was exciting, and then my joy of being accepted and being sure of going there was through the roof. How could it not be? I feel that you, like me, will relate to the feeling of excitement and exhilaration that accompanied the thought of “I’m going to America!” This was the place I’d seen in all those Hollywood movies I loved watching growing up. This was the home of my favorite actors, actresses and musicians, this was the hub of culture and all things happening, this was the land of opportunity and the thought of going there was exciting. My excitement stayed with me when I boarded the plane, flew across the globe and made my way to the college I was going to. And I remember so vividly, that it was not until I said goodbye to my aunt and uncle and sat down on my bed, that the fear of being so far from home hit me.

And you will feel this way.

There will be days when you miss the smell of your house, the company of your siblings, the love and scoldings of your mother, the advice of your father, the barking of your dogs; and most of all the reassurance of being home. Perhaps the cruelest thing that the process of coming to America will ever do to you is labeling you an “alien” until you work your way into citizenship (if, like me, you choose to) – and trust me when I say that there will be times when you feel the weight of that word lay heavy on you. Unlike any of the students you will encounter here; you as an international have so much more to prove, so much more to work for and the pressure of that combined with the pressures of the academic rigor here and the strangeness you may feel at being far from home can sometimes feel like it’ll crush and drain you. But here’s where I will encourage you with two of the biggest things I have learned here at Grove City:

  1. You are not here because of your grades or your family or your status or because of pure chance; you are here because God wants you to be here.
  2. Of all the places you could have gone to, you have chosen to leave home to come to a school where you will feel very much at home, where the line between friends and family is often blurred.

But you have some work to do to feel at home here, and here is where I would like to give you three select pointers based on my own experiences of life in Grove City.

  • Shake your Self-Consciousness: It is not a secret that you are going to stand out here. With only 5% diversity and a much smaller number of international students; your skin color, your accent, your style, your mannerisms might stand out. A frequent companion to standing out is self-consciousness, but I urge you not to let self-consciousness get in the way. I have seen a lot of international students keep to themselves and stray away from groups and activities because of their self-consciousness; and as someone who did fall victim to that for a while, I can tell you that it does not help you in anyway. This maybe a campus with little diversity, but it is also a campus with little to no judgement. The community is warm, accepting and friendly; and you will go far by allowing yourself to interact with and befriend the people around you who may look and sound nothing like you.
  • Clubs and Activities: It is the most cliché thing about every college poster; telling you to join and be a part of clubs and activities – but on this campus, it is especially important to international students like you and me. You will find that you will meet your best of friends while sweating over an intense game of IM basketball, or while chatting over coffee at the monthly campus coffee houses, but never just by sitting by yourself in your room. Whether it is a good thing or not, there is a negative assumption of people who shy away from communicating and keeping to themselves on this campus, so engage with and surround yourself with people – it is the best way to feel comfortable here, and the friends you make here are the kind that you stay friends with permanently.
  • Do not be Judgmental: In the same way the Bible reminds us to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” it is important to not be judgmental of people around you here. The culture here is different, and it is easy to judge people who aren’t of the same mindset as you (especially politically here at Grove City). But in order to be a part of the American community you need to remember that all people here have the freedom of speech and more importantly opinion. So it is important to stay away from arguments or shunning people because their opinions may differ from yours. Civilized conversations on things build character, but the second you start judging people based on their beliefs and opinions, you push away people who may have been very good people for you to have in your life.

There is so much more that I could talk about because I can only imagine how many more questions you have that are yet to be answered – but whatever questions you may have I urge you to reach out to the Office of Student Life and Learning on this campus. They do a fantastic job helping international students, and guiding you throughout every process – from showing you how to add/drop a class, to helping you identify and follow the path to working and living in America. And if you would like my perspective, then don’t hesitate to email me and ask anything of me that you would like to at hooleer1@gcc.edu.

My friend, no matter where you are from – remember that you are considering or committing to a campus community that will welcome you and be good to you, if you return the favor in good fashion. Here is a place where you will make memories and build relationships that will last a lifetime. So I urge you to seize every opportunity and show people both here, and at home why you are here and why it is in every way the place God wants you to be! If my story and my advice has been helpful even in one way to you, then I am very thankful to God for using it so. And should you end up coming to Grove City and pursuing and finishing your education here, then I will pray that God will bless and do great things in your life here, like he did and continues to do for mine.  

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