by Zoe Baker-Peng
“How long are you staying for?”
The customs officer stared at me. I opened my mouth to reply “three weeks” – the amount of time I was used to spending in the United States each year – but then stopped myself. “Four months,” I told him, and explained that I was attending college in the U.S. He nodded and smiled, passing my passport back to me as I thanked him. “Welcome,” he said, as I officially stepped into the United States of America.
Legally, entering America was easy for me since both my parents are American. My American passport means I that I didn’t have to go through the extended visa process that most foreigners dread. Emotionally, entering America was a different story. My home in London, England is over 3000 miles away and five hours ahead. I had to lug three large suitcases stuffed with four seasons worth of clothes through the airport and I still wasn’t completely equipped for college life. How was I going to survive both the momentous occasion of starting college and the terrifying idea that my parents and brother were flying home in four days…without me?
My fellow international students were a comfort to me in the first few days when we wandered Barnard’s halls on our own. My first night at Barnard saw me eating pizza with girls from Norway, Lebanon, Morocco, Israel and New Zealand. I learned that many international students had come from much farther than I had, and we commiserated over the shared trials we faced. Where should we buy a phone and how do we set up a U.S. number? How do we connect to Barnard Secure so that we can Skype our friends and families back home? Which bank is the right bank and, more interestingly, which gives out the best freebies? Where should we buy winter coats?! (Advice is still welcome).
My anxieties were outweighed by my excitement as older Barnard students and staff welcomed us to our new home away from home. By the time my roommate arrived on Sunday, I was feeling more confident of my surroundings. I had finally unpacked my massive suitcases into my tiny closet and had tried to merge the spoils from my previous travels on my side of the room. My international bedspread (thanks to Bed, Bath and Beyond) inspired thoughts of world travel, all of my London paraphernalia (thank you, Mum) reminded me of my home town, my New York City guidebooks (courtesy of my brother) suggested new adventures to come, and my Barnard bear (straight from the Barnard Gift store) welcomed me into my new home.
While I might have more links to America than some international students, I still have a different accent and come from a different culture and time zone. My laptop toolbar tells me it’s 9/21/2012 and 12:00 in New York, while the desktop clock tells me it’s 21/09/2012 and 17:00 in London. My roommate says it’s 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and I use my phone to convert it to 22 degrees Celsius. I’m still saying ‘aluminium’ for people I meet and figuring out why ‘donut’ is not ‘doughnut.’ I miss my family and home a lot–but I’m realizing so does everyone, even if they come from as nearby as New Jersey. No matter the distance you travel to come to Barnard, everyone has something that is new or different to them, be it the English language, the American culture, or just figuring out how to do laundry. And so together, as both domestic and international first-year students, we’re learning how to survive college and be proud Barnard students. Every morning I wake up and see the words on the card that my brother made me before I left for America. It’s quintessentially British yet acknowledging of my new American life, and it’s something that we can all live by, no matter where we are from:
“Keep Calm and Have Fun at Barnard.”
Zoe Baker-Peng is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.