I witnessed the purple California sunset when I first came to America four years ago.
I remember like it was yesterday. I waved goodbye to my parents in the train station on my way to Taipei, knowing that I was leaving behind my old life. A life of comfort and familiarity.
For those who grew up outside the states, going to college here was often either a path set from a young age, or a one-way ticket in hopes of attaining the American dream; a life of better opportunity.
I remember being on the plane, seeing the deep blue waters of the Pacific, and the diverse groups of people on the plane. Some were young couples returning home from their vacation; some were laborers ready to make their dreams a reality; and others were fellow students on an adventure to uncertainty.
Fast forward four years later, I look back and realize that I have evolved greatly as a person. In a new country that feels increasingly like home, I’ve cried, laughed, fell in love, and found myself.
If I were to give advice to young students from abroad, here’s what I would say.
1. It’s okay to feel alone.
My first year in America was lonely.
Though I had my sister and met one of my best friends, I missed the embrace of my parents and the laughter of my brother. I missed seeing my high school best friends everyday. After the first weeks of school, the excitement began to die down. I remember thinking, “I would do anything to be back home right now.”
I felt like no one could really relate to me; that I was a cultural nomad who grew up around the world, without a true community to anchor myself in.
It was only a matter of time until I felt like I belonged. I learned that college, America, or any opportunity available, is what you make out of it.
Loneliness has also brought me many joys.
I learned more about myself through books on Philippine history, American politics, and entrepreneurship. I learned to put thoughts into words, and words into paper. Ironically, in my four years of high school, only dust graced the covers of books and journals at home.
Loneliness helped me discover my love for both.
Learn more about yourself in your downtime. Pick up a pen and start writing, pick up a brush and start painting, or join a school club and start making connections with people.
It’s okay to feel alone. Soon enough, you’ll find more and more ways to love your own time.
2. Read, learn, and grow.
College can be an extraordinary time in your life.
It’s a time when you can mess up, take risks, and discover new hobbies. It also is a time to explore topics you are interested about.
Thinking of becoming a writer? Create a wordpress site, open social media accounts, and start writing. For me, I joined an essay contest in college and soon wrote for a local newspaper. Thinking about starting your own photography business? A good friend of mine opened up an Instagram account, made posts on Facebook, and began taking graduation photos while making some cash.
The American college experience is not built in the classroom. The beauty comes from the entrepreneurial, curious spirit that tells you that anything is possible.
Be brave and let the world know who you are. Start your own YouTube channel or blog post, write in a journal, or go to the library and start learning from books.
You may risk looking foolish, but you’ll begin to feel liberated in doing what you want to do.
3. Somehow, things end up working out.
For many internationals and millennials, worrying about the future is what causes immense stress.
Some of us are worried about paying off student debt, while others are worried about getting hired within 90 days upon graduation to continue our dreams in the states.
I too, tend to worry a lot.
I ask myself, “will my parents’ gamble in my U.S. education pay off?” “Where will I be in a year?” But then again, don’t we tend to look back and think to ourselves, “it all somehow worked out.”
I was recently reading Tim Ferriss’ “Tools of Titans,” and a piece of advice an entrepreneur gave was that “to eliminate stress, always have backup options.” While I took that to heart, I also realized that thinking of what I have as opposed to what I don’t have always makes me feel better.
How may people in the world would dream to attain a U.S. college degree? Countless.
I’ve realized that the value of my education comes with me wherever I go. The curiosity, sense of adventure, and belief that opportunities come to those who are willing to create it.
If you’re looking to make the most out of college in America, learn how to take the countless opportunities in front of you. Our generation is defined by the immense resources available at the tip of our fingers. Create opportunities for others, and keep fighting for yourself.
On my first plane ride to America, I thought to myself, “will I make it?”
I have yet to find out. But I’ll be sure to make the most it.