Aug 31, 2012

Finally on the outside looking in

Yesterday, I attended the international students’ orientation.  This was just the kind of official, structured welcome that I’ve been waiting for over the past few days.  After the expected exhortations to live each day of this short experience to the fullest, to interact with the Irish students, and to get involved in campus events, I heard a series of presenters speak all morning on topics like registration, “societies” (clubs), and volunteering.  At this point, I was vividly reminded of how it felt to be a first-year at Union (especially during that first month).
I'll always be partial to Union, of course...but this place isn't too shabby-looking, either.
Despite the crazy amount of introductory information being thrown at me, though, I was relieved to finally hear a sort of overview of what life here is supposed to look like.

There were way more students at the orientation than I expected to see, but I guess that's what happens when you're used to a college of just over 2,000 students.  Just to give you a sense of things, there are about 750 students here from over 95 countries (and in case you’re wondering, a fair number of these are from the United States).  Crazy.

I’m already getting the sense that Irish students here have a much more inclusive attitude towards international students than I’ve ever seen in the average Union student.  Now, of course, I’ve always thought of myself as a fairly welcoming person in this respect, but being here is already revealing to me that I could do so much more to help our foreign students feel like they’re part of the pack.  For example, I’ve never taken the risk of reaching out to an international student who’s a complete stranger to me…and now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not sure why.  Reflection time: have I become too comfortable with the circle of friends I've already built?  (Probably.)  Do I fear rejection - or worse yet, awkwardness?  (Oh, yes.)  Am I nervous about taking a risk that might not "pay off" in the way that my more fulfilling friendships do?  (Absolutely.)  It stands to reason that the Irish students might be asking themselves these same questions as they share their campus with students like me...

As a foreigner here, I know I’d find so much relief in an Irish student extending himself/herself toward me that way.  And maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t…but in any case, the experience of feeling "foreign" here is humbling.  I’m beginning to understand, for instance, why international students generally stick to their own.  It’s the comfort of familiarity, the safety of established friendships, that human need to "find your own"...

So the question, then, is: how does one breach those walls for the sake of forging a new relationship?  Whether you're the native student or the international one, I imagine that it takes a certain mix of gentleness, courage, and persistence.  So I wonder how this vision might play out over the next few months - will I be the one to extend a hand?  Will an Irish student be the first to take that initiative?  Will I be too shy and continue to assume that they don't really want to mix?  Will that assumption be proved true?  How will I use the lessons I learn in the relationships I have with my family and friends, as well as the relationships I have yet to form?  Time will tell...


  1. I found your blog through (in)courage.

    We are in somewhat similar situations. I've been living in a region in Brazil where there aren't many foreigners, and most of the population isn't exactly warm or inviting to foreigners...

    For me, this is something that i witnessed back home, with some of the locals, though i never understood it. I personally connected with many foreigners & recent immigrants in my hometown.

    The one thing i've learned here is that the question, "How are you liking it here?" is something no immigrant wants to hear every single day. lol Depending on the day (roller coaster of emotions) the answer can vary, and not wanting to offend the locals, it can just be exasperating. I've also learned that when people ask this, they are trying to be nice - not nosy - and it's really up to us to get a grip. (Philippians 4:13)

    Although i know there are other Americans/Canadians/Irish here, i never actively sought them out, during these past 6 years, which was quite a solitary existence - never really connecting with my Brazilian friends here. It seems i would forever be "the outsider." I now wonder if i perhaps missed out on "community" with other expats, though the biggest void has been fellowship with other Christians.

    I always knew that the life of a foreigner must be hard emotionally (and culinarily) speaking, but i thank God that He showed me firsthand, to better equip me to love others.

    I hope that things for you have reached a comfortable point, and that you've made some really nice friends. Maybe, just maybe, that is easier done in school. :)

  2. Glad you're here, Amaris :) (That's a beautiful, lilting name; what does it mean?) I've peeked at your must've taken a whole lot of courage to just pick up and leave home like that. Are you planning to return anytime soon, or are you settled?

    I’m grateful for you, friend – for your thoughts, for the way you understand where I’m coming from, for how openly you've shared what you’ve learned over the years. I’ve found most Irish people to be friendly, but not overwhelmingly so. But then, you could say the same of many Americans. So this continues to be a lesson to me – a reminder to take the log out of my own eye first (Mt 7.1-5).

    One exception: the church I’ve found, thanks to another South Asian I met through the Christian Fellowship on campus. This has been – and continues to be – a gift. I’m quite attached to my church family back home, and so was quite unhappy for the first few Sundays that I spent “shopping around”. But, as the song goes, our God is an awesome God – and He’s creative, too!

    This church is nothing like what I’m used to…it’s non-denominational, in a hotel basement, and not lectionary-based (it’s a verse-by-verse-type thing). But I needed the comfort of familiarity, and was awed to discover on Day 1 that the pastor’s originally from CA, and that there are five other South Asian families there – one of which hosts a women’s study every week! I finally feel welcome. (And on top of all that, I have access to the sermons from my home church, thanks to the Internet. I have much to be thankful for.)

    With the reassurance that I have this faith community, then, I now feel a bit more ready to reach out to Irish students…in other words, to make friends my own age :P (Thanks for this verse – it’s a welcome reminder, and an encouragement as I try now to reach outside my comfort zone.) You’re right – it does feel like this'll be easiest in the context of school, or even the dance class I’m taking. (There’s something about getting sweaty with other people that makes it easier to reach out and make conversation!)

    I’m so glad you understand what it’s like to deal with the “How are you liking it here?” issue. To clarify, I don’t really mind hearing it, but I do struggle with giving an answer that’s concise, complete, and honest. In a pinch, my go-to response these days is, “It’s been an adjustment, and I miss home, but things are starting to work out.” Short, sweet, and vague…but true.

    Thanks for your encouragement, friend – it means a lot to me that you’ve offered me the wisdom of your experience! Praying right now that you find the community you need…


    1. Thank you! :) ...for your prayers, for your encouragement & your kind words.

      I think your name is beautiful, too! How do you pronounce it? My name is Hebrew & means, "whom God has promised."

      I wish i could get away with a vague answer. I just say that i like it, and try to muster as much gusto as i can... (they don't believe it, otherwise). The people here want to hear specifics [the culture here is more invasive than what we are accustomed to... no question is too personal], so that's usually when it gets kinda awkward & i stammer that i miss home, but i like it here.

      The funny thing is that in this region i have had countless people then follow up the question with, "It's better here, isn't it? Better than your home." I just laugh, and tell them that someone's home is always the best to them - and that includes me. ;) (Note: just because i laugh, doesn't mean they will. lol smh)

      I remember well the search for a church here. I tried for several years... I haven't been able to find one that i can connect with, though, so i typically study online, and "attend" services that are streamed from back home. :/ At least, it's good teaching, but i really miss a church family.

      I'm so happy for you, that you found a good church!! What a gift! I hope that you are able to find friends your own age, too! :D

      I'm hoping to go back home sometime soon, but at the same time, i reeeeeally don't want to live anywhere with scorching temps anymore, so i dream of moving somewhere in the northwest region of the U.S.

      That said, i have an inkling that the Lord could very well place me somewhere that i may not have dreamed. (I have a feeling that i could be one of the resident foreigners again, somewhere else, though i don't see that as a bad thing.) Only He knows.

      You have such a sweet spirit. I'm praying that God continues to bless you & open doors for you.

  3. You’re so kind, friend!

    What a good reminder, and a lovely way to name a child – “whom God has promised”. I’m glad God keeps His promises :) Thanks – my name (pronounced “SOH-nee-kuh”) comes from a Hindi word that means “golden beauty”.

    That’s a clever answer, that someone’s home is always the best to them. The question strikes me as a little insensitive, but I suspect that that’s a difference in culture talking. In any case, surely there are some things that you do like about Brazil. What do you think? I’d like to think that there’s good hidden away in each day, even the days that leave us rough around the edges. When I manage to see God’s gifts in each day – in the ordinary as well as in the extraordinary – I find it easier to embrace gratitude…and isn’t that a posture worth pursuing? (Have you ever visited Ann Voskamp’s blog – I learned this perspective from her.)

    I admire your openness about moving around. That said, the Northwest sounds like a stellar choice…although I’m obviously partial to New York :) Speaking of which, if you were in NY, I’d totally bring you to visit my church – it’s the best (and I’m not biased at all, clearly :P) It’s the first place I ever found the joys of a church family, so I can empathize with the way you miss it. I’ll continue to pray that you find the support you need – and who knows? I’m reminded that the way God answers prayer doesn’t always align with our preferences. In any case, while we’re waiting, we can at least encourage each other like this :)

    Speaking of friends my own age, check this out: at last night’s women’s study (they’re on Tuesday evenings), two new women came. They’re both Irish (!) and in their twenties (well, one says she’s 31, but I still don’t believe her), and we had such a good time together. There was honest talk, lots of singing, and loads of giggling…such a comfort. Until now, I’ve felt like the baby in this group since most of the other women are young mothers – a different stage of life – and I’m just 21. But yesterday was so, so encouraging for my heart, and I did something this morning that I’ve never done before – invited them over to my apartment “sometime”. Doors are opening!