Arundhati Menon: When across the world, make that friend

Guest Columnist

On Aug. 13 at 5:45 p.m., I ran across the space outside Leutner Commons for my 5:30 p.m. group meeting—cursing early morning flights and hotel check-in times. I sat in my allotted circle and thanked my stars that because everyone was completely involved in icebreakers, nobody noticed my presence. To me the process of playing an icebreaker just seems like a way to elevate the already existent awkwardness of a first meeting; I was glad to have missed it. Unless my orientation leader is reading this: in which case, I’m just joking.

I was extremely scared that I would end up sitting in the corner reading a book, as I reminded my mom over and over, but—as it always does—it turned out that there were people who were much more nervous than I was. We may have looked like UN ambassadors when we were together, but we got along like a house on fire.

For me to say that it was easy to come 13,576 kilometers (alright, 8,431 miles) away from my home, family and friends would be a blatant lie, but I also know that it would have been infinitely more difficult had I not been able to obtain the kind of support system here that I had gotten. I distinctly remember the look of utter shock and disbelief on people’s faces when I tell them that I honestly enjoyed orientation, but that is actually a bit of an understatement.

However, not very dissimilar to most things in life, my experience was spoilt by one very disappointing, reoccurring conversation. It all began in a subtler way when I got a few of the usual, “You’re from India? But you speak English so well!” which I decided to take lightly and equate to ignorance rather than as an insult.

When we were split into batches and made to take an English proficiency exam, it was the last straw. For someone who learnt English before even learning her own mother tongue, and who, contrary to popular belief, used it daily, it seemed frivolous and downright insulting to have to take an exam to prove it. I initially didn’t give it much thought, but as everyone else in the group started to obsessively worry about not doing well, I found myself—against my better judgment—starting to get equally anxious about the test. Once the test started I realized that my fear was unnecessary, yet I found that I was nervous about the results. Which also turned out to be completely futile in the end, but as my friend put it so eloquently in a group chat before the results: “When will we find out if we’ll get to take classes with the Americans?”

At this moment, three weeks into college, it’s hard for me to believe that I’ve only been here for this long. It feels like it’s been much, much longer. In the beginning I was proud of myself for not feeling homesick, then I realized that unlike what I thought it would be, homesickness came in waves. The other day, I was studying and ran out of my room to go downstairs and get some rice, when I realized that I wasn’t at my home in India.

Times like this can get a little overwhelming, but it’s nice to know that there are people around me who are probably feeling the same way. So if you’re feeling nervous or angry or some other inexplicable, unusual emotion (if you’re like me, chances are you are), go out and talk to someone else about it—because even though you feel completely alone, and silly and weak for feeling like that, there’s at least one person out there who’s feeling exactly the same. They’ll be happy to have found company.

Arundhati Menon is a first-year majoring in computer science and economics.