Tag Archives: abroad

USC Student Voices Defining Home

Editor’s Note:

Where do you live? Where are you from? Where do you call home? For some people, the answers to all three of those questions will be the same. For many, they will be different. USC students come from different places across the country and around the globe. As young people trying to establish our place in the world, we are constantly searching for a place to call home. Everyone has a unique view of what home means to them, and below four different USC students come together to provide their own interpretation of home. You will hear from Grace (Yuan) Gao, an international student encountering the trials and tribulations of moving during a pandemic, Nathan Smith, a Masters student reflecting on his undergraduate abroad experience in Glasgow, Samhitha Saiba, coming to terms with her surprising homesickness after coming to L.A., and Leona Tafaghodi, a student in the World Bachelor in Business program learning to adjust to a new city every year. All of these students have come to USC under different circumstances, and all are still discovering what it means to feel at home somewhere. Perhaps you will find some similarities between your experiences and theirs, or perhaps simply a friendly reminder that you have had many homes and have many more to come.

-Natalie Grace Sipula, Editor

Moving During a Pandemic: How I Moved Into My New Apartment 

By Grace Yuan Gao

[4 minute read]

This summer, I moved by myself to a new apartment for the very first time. Before moving, I had no idea how tiring but also eye-opening this experience would be. As an international student, I had never moved anywhere alone until coming to the United States. I grew up in a small city in the middle of China (Shanxi province, famous for its coal production), and when I first came to California I moved with the help of my parents. They assisted me in making lists of what I would need to bring to the United States and helped to package my belongings. The first time I moved to L.A., I felt fearful of the unknown, but at the same time, thrilled to come to a new and exotic place; I was able to plan and prepare for my move. However, I did not anticipate moving again in 2020 at the beginning of the summer. Moving to a new apartment during a pandemic was an utterly unforeseen experience for me, even though it was not a long distance from the place I had lived before.

Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

Moving by myself came with a whole new set of challenges.

The most challenging part of this process for me was transportation. After being in a pandemic for nearly half a year, California has become the leading state of COVID-19 cases in the US. I had to move during the summer when the COVID-19 cases were still high since my current lease was about to expire and I did not renew it in order to save money. Neither I nor my friends (most of whom had already gone back home to their native countries) have a car, and hiring someone to help us move during this unprecedented time seemed to be an unnecessary risk. Thus, the new apartments and houses that I and my other international friends chose were really close to our original ones, so that we could move our belongings more easily. Some of my friends even moved all of their belongings by foot over multiple trips. They rented some small carts and walked to their new houses several times a day over the span of a week. It was pretty exhausting, but ultimately safe for all involved.

At first I thought it would be a huge project, and had no idea where to start.

But I was lucky enough to have a friend who gave me a hand with his new car. He carried all my stuff (about ten big boxes) downstairs and moved them to his car over several trips and greatly helped me. However, life is always full of unexpected experiences. The first day of moving, my friend was driving my things to my new apartment and a bike hit his car, which ended up shocking everyone involved. Moving is a journey full of new experiences and uncertain events, even occurrences such as a car accident, which you do not anticipate but will likely experience sooner or later.

Photo by Tim Trad on Unsplash

I did not realize that I would miss my original apartment until the day before I left.

Since I just came to the United States a year ago, I usually feel like a rootless plant which prepares to be moved anywhere at any time. It was surprising for me to find that I felt an attachment to the first place I lived in when I came here and I was pretty sad to say goodbye to that place, which was tiny and messy but full of memories. As I prepared to move, I noticed that every corner of that house seemed to be filled with personal stories all of a sudden and everywhere I looked seemed both familiar and strange. Neighbors used to gather together and cook for each other in the tiny kitchen. Outside of my window was a small garden which was my only view in quarantine. There was a platform upstairs which was my secret corner for reading. I realized that time will pass no matter how much you hate or enjoy each moment, things will change no matter how hard you try to keep them the same, and people will leave no matter how special they are to you. Parting is the normal state of life. Just like the seeds of a dandelion, which fly away and grow wherever they land, over time you will find you have new friends and fresh dreams. You cannot always stay in the same place but have to change somehow.

Photo by HiveBoxx on Unsplash

Moving is both an end and a beginning.

After the unexpected but fairly smooth transportation of my things, I finally moved to my current apartment energetically and excitedly. The moment I opened the new room’s door, I felt a sense of independence and freshness. The structure of my new apartment is fairly similar to my former one, and the mattress is just the same. When I laid on the new bed the first night, I did not even realize that I had moved. A new room means a unique start, and you can chat with different neighbors, make new friends, and explore novel communities, a treasure in this pandemic since I have forgotten how long it was since I last talked to a stranger face to face. Also, it is always fun to decorate your new room  and to make it a private utopia of sorts. Moving was especially tiring in this unusual time; however, that transition, just like this time, will come to pass.

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS: ADJUSTING TO LIFE ABROAD

By Nathan Smith

[5 minute read]

Going off to university can be daunting. It’s even more daunting to go off to study in another country, far away from your mental and emotional safety nets and the warm embrace of friends and family. For many people, this is a deterrent, a “yea, it sounds good, but I don’t think I could do it.” For me, however, it wasn’t just an idea. It was a tangible goal. 

It’s a rainy November evening in Lexington, Kentucky. I’m up to my neck in boredom, anxiety and stress. I’ve just about had it with the mundane routine of waking up, going to class, coming back and doing nothing else. I speak aloud, “I’m tired of this, I’m supposed to be doing something bigger, something greater than sitting in a dorm in Lexington, Kentucky.” I had a lot of ambition and hunger for something more, but I did not quite know what that “more” was. So a few weeks go by and I keep thinking over what I can do to get out of the University of Kentucky. I tell my mother that I want to transfer, and of course she isn’t pleased, thinking my living set up is perfect and that the school is nice, but I explain to her that I want more, that I’m supposed to be doing bigger things. 

Fast forward to the end of the semester, and I’ve decided. I’m going to Europe. The casual reader’s probably going, “Kentucky to Europe? How the hell does one even reach that line of thinking?” Besides getting an immense chuckle from me, you’d also get a pretty intense breakdown of the situation. Truth is, Europe was not something that just came out of nowhere. I had applied to European universities out of high school, most notably Glasgow, Edinburgh, Richmond American University of London, Oxford and American University of Paris, receiving admits to Glasgow, Richmond and Edinburgh. So in many ways, I saw switching institutions as a simple act of finishing something which I had held a propensity for already.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

After a tumultuous summer, many applications, arguments with my mum, being dissuaded by other family members, and lots of prayer, I ended up on a Delta flight to Glasgow to study at THE University of Glasgow in October- a full 2 weeks after the semester had started. Initially, I was scared senseless. Truthfully, I went through a period of time where I was so anxious, homesick, scared and lonely that I didn’t go to any classes for a month. I would go stretches of weeks without attending classes. The combined 2 mile walk to campus up Glaswegian hills every day, the loneliness, and simply being scared kept me from going to my lectures. 

It wasn’t until the very end of my first semester at Glasgow that I truly began to settle in. I began to become more active in class discussions, meeting with professors, going to events and truly feeling like I was a student at the university. How? Truthfully, it was a combination of things. One thing that helped me to adjust was getting active in the dating scene on Tinder and actually talking to other people. I began hanging out with people, going to the cinema, clubs, and truly integrating into student life.

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Pushing the Comfort Zone through Solo Backpacking

By Stephanie Corrigan

I look around at the international students in my classes and around campus and I am overwhelmed by the feeling that they are on a great journey. I know this feeling well and am excited for all the adventures and new knowledge my international peers will experience in their studying here from abroad. And for my soon to be peers, perhaps getting ready to jump on a plane and arrive at USC for the first time, let me share some of my fears and triumphs when I was the person from another land.

As some well-versed travelers will tell you, one of the best feelings in the world is that moment of victory when you realize you have reached your target destination. Though there are merits to getting lost and enjoying an off-the-beaten-path adventure, there is pride to be found in navigating your way through winding roads, complicated subway line systems, and inevitable misunderstandings with the local population with little to no effort. Unfortunately, I am not this kind of traveler. Last summer marked my second backpacking trip abroad, but the first of which I traveled solo. As a young female traveler, I had many fears and doubts before my first flight to East Asia. I hopped on the plane with extremely limited linguistic knowledge of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. To say this was a daring, whirlwind venture for me is an understatement. However, I felt I needed to push the boundaries of my comfort zone, so I refused to let myself back down from the challenge that awaited me. Looking back now, I am incredibly grateful for the transformative experience I received. I learned more about the people and cultures of China, Japan, and South Korea than I ever could have by reading a book. From trying xiaolongbao in Shanghai to spending too many hours stuck in the labyrinth of Tokyo Stations, I became more culturally competent and self-aware than ever before.

Photo is author’s own

Since returning home, I have had plenty of other interested backpackers ask me about going solo. While there are undeniable risks to traveling alone as a young female, I believe the benefits far outweigh any of those fears. More often than not, people will bend over backwards to help you, going the extra mile to show you where your hostel is or to purchase the correct train ticket for you. In Japan, a man bought me a special type of tea, telling me that I need to understand “how important tea is to the Japanese people.” In South Korea, a hostel worker taught me key phrases to employ in my adventures around Seoul. These are just two of the innumerable moments that I had the good fortune of experiencing this summer.

Photo is author’s own

If you are venturing out to a new country for the first time, do not let any fear, anxiety, or self-doubt stop you from pursuing this fulfilling goal. Travel will always be a bit intimidating at the start, as it is a fear of the unknown that plagues us all. Nonetheless, immersing yourself in an unfamiliar and foreign environment is the best way to conquer your jitters.

Featured image is author’s own

Stephanie is an USC graduate who studied Political Science. She is from Orlando, Florida and loves to spend time outside, whether hiking or exploring a new city, as well as practicing her photography, writing in her travel blog, or planning her next backpacking trip abroad. She discovered an interest in working with foreign exchange students through her study abroad experience in Turkey the summer after her junior year of high school. She is interested in learning foreign languages, as well as better understanding cultures different from her own.

Experiencing Similarities and Differences in a Foreign Land

By JoAnna Enos

When I was 11, I went abroad for the first time. I was part of an exchange program that paired students at my middle school in Portland, Oregon with students at a high school in Suzhou, China. I remember being very interested in other countries and cultures at the time. I loved learning about the ancient history of other countries and I loved the idea of going to palaces, temples, and other places that people had built and inhabited centuries ago. I knew going to China would be an amazing experience, especially since I would be going with friends and would be staying with a Chinese family, but at the time I didn’t realize just how influential a single trip to another country would be on my future interests, both personal and academic.

A few months after the Chinese students had visited Portland, my classmates and I traveled to China to stay with them. We flew into Shanghai and drove about two hours to Suzhou, where our host families lived. During the drive, I was amazed by what I saw just by looking out the window. I was expecting everything to look completely different than what I was used to. I thought China would look similar to how it’s described in old history textbooks and I wasn’t expecting to see so many things, like cars, clothes, buildings, restaurants, etc., that looked just like they did in my hometown.

The landscapes weren’t all that different either. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, large wooded areas and forests, rivers running through the center of a city, and mountain ranges not too far off in the distance were all things I was used to seeing on a daily basis, and those were things I was seeing in China too. Of course I knew that similar landscapes and geological features exist in many different places all over the world, but I was still expecting everything to be new.

Then, when I finally got to Suzhou and arrived at the home of my host family, I began to realize how cultures mix and match and adopt things from other cultures while still retaining some fundamental differences from each other. The apartment my host family lived in looked just like any apartment in the U.S., but what made it different was the culture of the people that lived in it. That was true for most of the things I saw and places I visited. Stripped down, they weren’t too different from the things I was used to, but then when you add in the factor of a completely different culture, things started to come alive and the new images were fascinating and exciting. I wanted to see as many things as possible and learn as much as I could about how things in China were different or similar to how they are in the U.S.

Continue reading Experiencing Similarities and Differences in a Foreign Land