As I am writing this, I can still relate to the “pounding inside” that I felt when I decided to come to America. I can also feel the exhaustion of traveling from city to city to prepare the paper works, the excitement of receiving my visa and offer, and the sentiment when I saw the tearful face of my mother at the airport security gate.
I’ve been a comic fan since I was a kid. After the heavy pressure of schoolwork and various after-school classes, watching Justice League of America was the time I truly enjoyed. Although I didn’t understand the English dialogue back then, watching the Justice League superheroes save the city and its people from the villains was enough to make me yell with excitement. In retrospect, this is probably why I wanted to come to America in the very first place.
Growing up, apart from comics, American pop music and movies also had a profound impact on my worldview and outlook on life. However, my romantic fantasy about life in America were shattered when I arrived. Studying abroad means cross-cultural adjustment for students from different cultural backgrounds. Without the skyscrapers and busy streets I saw in American TV shows and the company of my family and friends in China, I soon felt a sense of loneliness and isolation that I had never experienced before. What made it even more painful for me was that I couldn’t understand my teachers, so I had to spend several times as much time preparing for my classes as my classmates. Even in a crowded library, I still have no one to talk to. The good thing is that my classmates and teachers are thoughtful, and their care and patience have made me feel that life is not completely dark. Gradually, I started to adapt to life here and started to make more friends. My life began to become more prosperous and more colorful. Now I can understand the teacher’s lectures as well as communicate fluently with people. I discovered more possibilities of myself, going to American elementary schools to speak about Chinese language and culture, giving presentations at academic conferences, interpreting for President McPhee… These experiences have forged the person I am today.
If I had to sum up what I have learned from living in the US over the years, I think it would be a sincere feeling of “it’s never too late” and the courage to start again. Today, I feel more encouraged to go to unfamiliar places again, do challenging things and approach people I don’t know well, because it was clear to me that I could do a lot of things on my own that I couldn’t seem to do. At the same time, I have become more respectful of other people’s ideas and have learned to embrace different ideas. Studying abroad may be like walk through a path full of thorns and roses, but as Saint-Exupéry wrote in Night Flight, “The work in progress was all that mattered.”
Contributing writer Bingshi Zhang is an International Student Ambassador and is majoring in studying Literacy Studies for his Ph.D. The International Student Ambassador program that was launched in the Fall of 2020 by the Office of International Affairs. Ambassadors mentor incoming international students to help them adjust to the United States and give advice about getting involved on campus and how to be successful at MTSU.