Have you ever imagined how it feels for agent J (starred by Will Smith) – a secret agent movie Man in Black (MIB), when he entered the intergalactic secret agent station of MIB? The station is filled with unusual creatures and aliens from far away galaxies and distant planet throughout the universe. Traveling around 10,000 miles equal to 15,000 kilometers from Indonesia to America, upon my arrival as an “alien” for the first time in United States, all that was reviving in my mind was the scene of Agent J in the fore mentioned movie. It was a long and snaking queue full of various strangers at the Los Angeles international airport which was super crowded. The queue was caused by the computer system of the Los Angeles international airport that went down at the recent time. I witnessed a diverse group of people from different countries and ethnics. It was breathtakingly astonishing and I was overwhelmed with amusement. Finally, I officially arrived in United States, the country of immigrants.
From my observation, I noticed Koreans, Japans, Europeans, Hawaiians, Mid-Eastern people, Africans, Americans, children, gentlemen, ladies and so on, so forth. There was a kid, ignoring the summer-heated circumstance, rode on her pinky baggage along the line back and forth as if she was riding her favorite bicycle and did not belong to any queue. There was a couple who remained their scuba-diving costume rolled down from the upper body to the waist leaving a piece of grey T-shirt on their top. They did enjoy their line up by holding hand. I assumed they were from a vacation in Hawaii. Another guy in-line that I believed from Japan was still in gentle and neat black suit after his flight. Seemingly after escaping from the queue, he would directly join a very important business meeting. Mostly I could assume the nationality of the individual by their physical features and by also identifying their language.
Flown with American Airlines touching down Los Angeles Airport by July 14th, It was around 3 pm in the summer. Despite the long entry line, I enjoyed the thrilling view and I was full of excitement. Observing them was like reading global population map book. Inspired by that weird, yet impressive moment, I started to think about the diverse individuals that I was going to meet on campus, apartment, and environment.
I can deliberately claim that I am one of the luckiest persons on earth to have this precious chance to visit United States through CCI Program funded by The State Department amid the new the US immigrant policy of banning Muslims in regards with my name being typical Islamic name with ‘Muhammad’. After all I conclude that ‘typical name issue’ is just an assumption that I was proven wrong. Everything was going as smooth as my thirty-hour trip from Indonesia to the USA. I can confirm that as long as we have cleared our background and have willingness to study, all of us will find our way out. We just need to devote a bit more courage and effort. Besides, US government has deep concern on global education. In addition to it, prayer is a must-need.
As an international student who will stay in this country full of dream, I must get settled in as quickly as possible in order to begin what I have been dreaming for years, the journey of America. On the process, there are lots of new things I have found in regards with individual, groups of people, local community, and varied things which are either impressive or unexpected. And of course, there are hidden gems in many spots in my living environment. This writing will tell some few concepts and points that examine how I, a new international student, have dealt with my first impressions, culture shocks, and various adaptation processes so far.
GAINING MENTAL AND PHYSICAL READINESS
There are many challenges to encounter in the early stay in a new living place, not to mention in United States which can be very difficult. The most important thing is, as human being naturally equipped with adaptation ability, we are expected to always be mentally and physically prepared for any condition, this unique human attribute prevents us from complaining and keeps us moving.
For instance, my first day in Alexandria city of Virginia, The City of Lovers, was quite hard considering my 30-hour-flight exhaustion and I almost ruined my sleeping pattern – at least it was what my coordinator told me. After arriving in the morning at Dulles Airport, I unintentionally fell into sleep at 4 pm to 9 pm in my first night local time. I might still have my Indonesia sleeping hours which 12 hours ahead of America, I thought to myself.
Instead of being anxious on jetlag, I got myself out of the house and walked down the street near the house until 2 am. Not only that I could exhaust myself so that I can fall asleep and keep me in US sleeping hours, but also I could enjoy beautiful sightseeing to my surroundings in my first night in the city of Alexandria. Recently Virginia is glowing under Summer sunshine, so stay hydrated!
HOLDING THE SPIRIT OF TRAVELING
A traveler always believes, God spreads pieces of His beautiful paradise over somewhere around in this earth. Like treasure, one just needs to take a first step to discover it. That is what I strongly believe. The first day I arrived, I could not ground my feet remain on the floor of my apartment. I just wanted to go out and explore. One hour being inside the house upon my arrival was enough. All that was in my mind was to have a date with the beautiful Virginia.
The first day, with clueless mind, I took courage to step out of the residence. It led me to see how beautiful the trees standing neatly side by side around my house were, with their pink colorful blossoms. Some were yellow and pale green. It felt like spring, yet It was summer, but I then remembered, my program coordinator said we would be able to see colorful leaves in the fall next season. If flowers were this beautiful in summer, I just wonder how they will be in the fall season.
In order to have a sustainably well-managed life for an international student in the US, I quote Benjamin Franklin words stating, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” It was a big clue for me before the departure to my US study. Thus, the first day by being informed by Kelly Forbes, my program coordinator, I noticed some information. Therefore, I had been able to schematize all needs and prospects of my one year stay here. It is not only about budgeting, but also learning facilities at home like books or even accessible libraries or any other comfortable spots to read books. In addition to that, planning our study will be as essential as planning dietary. Both are reciprocally supportive each other.
I want to make special discussion about money. If you come from developing country like Indonesia, you might find banking system in US is more sophisticated. Bank provides abundant online service that makes everything reliably easy. Most of transactions at shops require debit or credit swipe card service; cash transaction is likely extinct. Yet the sophistication does not mean perfection. I have to always keep my password and some confidential codes. No one should know, not even the bankers. Only God and I know.
MEETING THE LOCALS
Based on books and discussion with friends in my home country, Americans are individually-oriented community. I have made up my mind in deep contemplation after experiencing my first two weeks here. It turns out people here are easy to get along, at least in the town I’m living. Every time I visit a restaurant or get on the bus, I frequently find occasion the officers will certainly say, “Hi, how are you?”, “How are you doing?”, “have a nice day” or simply “good day”. The first time, I did not respond anything, just simply because I was too much wowed to see people were very warm to greet each other. The last time from hanging out with my roommate when passing the street, a mother inside her stopped car waved her hand to us with her smile. Anyhow, again I feel so welcome in this country.
I also want to share that some friends and I were very lucky to visit Timothy’s house. We were introduced by Sunny, a very kind Pakistani brother who studied at Northern Virginia Community College, where all participants are studying. When we visited, Tim and her wife Terry were holding ice cream party. He was visited by friends from many cities too, like His friend Shibu from Philadelphia and her wife. The house was so crowded with other cheerful people who kept coming and had their enjoyable conversation. We did enjoy our discussion resembling like family chitchat. I was thrilled on the very comfortable conversation. I also had a chance eying and touching the house antique properties like the unused chimney, old photos, old gramophone, Timothy’s veteran hat, pendulum watch, etc. Poured under summer rainfall, the house was felt very warm inside with the family togetherness and friendship. He said, we have much time ahead to savor togetherness next time.
MANIFESTING THE MIRACLE OF ASKING QUESTION
Frequently I felt shame or hesitated when I asked questions in a formal forum. Yet I started to realize that it is the way I can experimentally learn something new or fulfill my curiosity when asking. I believe curiosity is a philosophical behavior and a part of human nature that has rights to fulfill. Other than that, question is a part of the nature of journalism, the major I will proceed here. By any means, as long as I need, I will try to arrange my words to create strategical questions or investigative ones.
As a part of traveler’s value, question is how God gives clues to human who is cluelessly in need. To reinforce the concept, let me throw in quote saying, “No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives.”
LOVING LIVING WITH CCI FAMILY
CCI Program of Virginia bringing 12 country representatives is such a big family. Even though Everyone carries diverse life values and characters and just met, we are living under the same roof. Connecting everyone is so challenging for the early adaptation. In my apartment where I share house with brothers from Africa and Brazil, we are still getting over the difference. However, I do enjoy every talk and discussion while building understanding with everyone. I am strongly convinced this is a beginning I build a brand new, global family that I can tell people in my community back home in the future. Every meeting with them will be a precious story long-lasting in my memory. This first few weeks will be an eyewitness how a new melting-pot family is born in the land of colonial Virginia, USA.
There is no the best way for everyone, everyone fits one. In the other words, everyone has their own unique way to overcome the so-called culture shock or carry on adaptation process in a new area of living. This article just covered only one piece among thousands even millions of adaptation ways. What a person needs to settle in is to keep moving on and not left behind, unless he or she wants to get extinct like dinosaurs did.
All in all, our program coordinator once explained about the stages of cultural shock international students normally experience in US; honey moon stage; frustration stage; adjustment stage; and acceptance stage. This far I felt like I am overwhelmingly positive and become infatuated with the language, people, emotions and feelings in my new surroundings. As I project the prospect of my learning routines a year ahead here, I’m afraid if I cannot move on from the first level of culture shock; the honey moon stage.
Post written by Muhammad Arham, 2017-2018 participant at NOVA-Annandale from Indonesia