Reflecting on life as an international student


By Yunjo Jeong

Let’s start with a cliched saying: Time flies.

For me, last semester ­— my first semester of college — was a hectic frenzy. Starting over in a new world wasn’t as easy as I’d expected; my mind was on overdrive the moment I entered Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and as an incoming freshman traveling from my life in South Korea, I knew I wouldn’t feel completely at home at the University.

But then again, coming here wasn’t meant to be all nice and comfy. I came here to the United States to have more opportunities in life; expecting to be at complete ease in a new country would be wishful thinking.

The first few days here were as crazy as they could be. Getting everything settled within a few days — bank accounts, cell phones, courses and textbooks — was an exhausting job.

I walked around town with my Android device in my hand because I didn’t know the bus lines and wasn’t sure I could figure out the campus well enough on my own. And walking around with a map was the typical look of a tourist, a newbie. I didn’t eat in restaurants outside of the dining hall simply because I didn’t know which places were good or if the food was decently priced.

One day I walked what felt like 15 miles — a distance that would easily have been covered by riding the bus.

I felt like a foreign tourist rather than a student. Maybe it’s just me, but I really did not expect to get acclimated to the campus so quickly.

Looking back, I guess I fared well enough. Now I’m so used to riding the bus that I never use my bike anymore — so much so that it’s now rusted — and I know the locations of most of the buildings on campus.

I still vividly remember last semester: The days when I would spend the whole night awake because I couldn’t finish my homework, the days when I would prefer to sleep for a few hours over eating a meal, the days when I was so tired I sometimes fell asleep on the bus and almost missed my stop.

I remember the end of last August, one night when it was pouring rain and thunderclaps rang through my dorm room window. I felt strangely sentimental and created a long post on my blog, telling the story about my first day alone in my new world.

I had still been feeling numb after all I’d been through for the past few days, still unable to believe that I was actually in an American university, when I was faced with a new culture that I had to understand in a foreign language.

I didn’t know what to feel, didn’t know whether I should be happy that I was given an opportunity to pursue my goals of studying abroad or whether I should just be petty and give in to the lonely feeling that I didn’t know anybody around me.

Looking back at these days, I feel once again that time flies. I’m already a week into my second semester. I’m used to the tiny desk that greets me when I come back to my room, I’m used to the pizza and pasta that I eat every day and I’m used to how the courses are divided into lectures and discussions, and in some cases, labs.

I’ve learned to look beyond the tiring life of school and to enjoy the new experiences I am having here.

Face it — I’m here, and I’m a foreigner. I’m taking lectures and obtaining new knowledge in a language that is so different from my native language. I can choose to enjoy it or regret my choice to come here, and I choose the former. I look forward to learning both statics and electromagnetics in the same semester, taking Theoretical and Applied Mechanics 211 and Physics 212 at the same time. I look forward to learning how to create computer-aided design models in Mechanical Engineering 170, and I look forward to struggling to recall past chemistry knowledge as I tackle Chemistry 104.

Life is going to be fun my next three years here. It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be fun. And that’s what counts.

Yunjo is a freshman in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected].