I graduated last month with a master’s degree from a prestigious university and a full-time job on hand at a prestigious accounting firm in Washington D.C.
But I am not sitting down to write about how successful I have been as a student. I want to write about the obstacles that I had faced as an international student.
The problem, however, is that I don’t seem to remember the insurmountable challenges that I had faced during those five years. I don’t know if it has happened to you, but when I see the outcome of a project, I tend to forget how challenging it was, because I get too fascinated by the results. I am in the same phase right now.
When I first joined the university, I faced so many challenges that I even almost broke down. Interestingly, at this moment, the only thing I can think of is that those five years were the most amazing time of my life. I am amazed at where I am today because of those five years.
But as I think harder, I realize how I am forgetting the time when I almost dropped out of school and went off the academic track during my first year in the US. After the first few months of freshman year, I kept convincing myself that I was overwhelmed with everything. I didn’t drop out but I withdrew from the university and denied all of their grants and scholarships because I was overwhelmed and homesick. Then I transferred to a community college a few miles from where my close relatives lived. The quality of education there cannot be compared with the quality of education at the university I had attended. But it completely made sense during my first year. I was lost in the crowd of twenty five thousand students in the university.
Back in Nepal, I was an academic star among thirty students. In the university here, I felt like I was nothing. I felt like I was the dumbest student in the entire class full of amazing students. So, I went to the community college, back to a classroom of thirty students and back to being noticed by teachers. But in spite of all the bad consequences of transferring to a community college from a prestigious university, one good thing happened to me. It made me feel better and boosted my confidence. I am glad that I did not drop out of school completely. I cannot imagine what I could have been if I had done so. I am glad that I continued my academic journey in the community college where I gained my confidence again. After a year, I felt ready to go back to the university and transferred back to the university that I had left a year before.
After transferring to the university, I made a list of things I would not do again like leaving university again, staying quiet in a corner of the classroom, ignoring the events that were happening around me and much more. This time, I took a different approach. I focused on what I needed to do and what I could do. Soon I realized that many people were there to help me out. My advisors helped me enroll in the classes that were being offered to first year students to help them transition to a university. I took some amazing classes that first year like International Cinema, Public Speaking, International Development etc that helped me have fun with other new students, learn as well as participate actively in the classroom activities. In Nepal, I grew up with the concept that participating in other activities not related to my field will distract me from my studies. But in the US, I figured out it was just the opposite. Such classes helped me broaden my perspective, understand the material from the students with different academic background and have fun at the same time. Tutors were available to help me with my papers. I was surprised that my professors were ready to listen to my challenges, even the ones that were not related to the class they taught and were ready to help me get over the challenges. The career services help me get appropriate jobs related to my major and my employers did their best to adjust my job responsibilities as I completed more classes related to accounting. I was amazed at all the facilities available at the university and even more amazed at the fact that the university invests thousands of dollars every year in creating and updating the facilities. I always felt I was bothering them and kept avoiding them as much as possible only to realize later that these people were genuinely interested in helping me out.
As I recall my academic journey, it seems like everyone wanted me to achieve what I have achieved today. My professors cried when my class of 175 students graduated with their masters’ degree. They knew each one of us by our names, they knew our personal stories, obstacles, strengths and weaknesses. They took care of us as their own children. My family, friends, relatives, roommates, employers and tutors have done their part in teaching me life skills.
Over the course of the following five years, I learned one basic lesson that everybody knows and has heard of: everyone faces obstacles. What looks like an obstacle for one person might be viewed as an opportunity by someone else. So, all we need to learn is to change our perspective and be in that someone else’s position by seeing obstacles as opportunities as soon as possible. That is the biggest lesson to learn in life. Without the positive perspective, everything, small and big, would seem like it is dragging one down when in reality, it might have an important lesson to teach us.
When I first came to the US five years ago, I would complain about everything. I felt like I was the only person who was homesick, overwhelmed, scared, lost and ignored.
But once I learned to adjust my perspective, I saw opportunities. I saw how the entire university had planned for my success and I used those resources to the fullest.
If you are struggling at a university right now, just look around. Use the counseling center if you feel like you cannot handle the situation by yourself. Look for other resources that can help you build yourself. Never ignore a class thinking it is unrelated to your field. If you can fit in extra classes that will teach you useful life skills in your schedule without overwhelming it, take that opportunity.
Looking back, I wish I had started looking at things differently much sooner than I did. I wish I had time to take more fun classes during those years. I wish I had taken interior designing, gardening, skiing classes when I could.
One more thing, I wish I had enough words to describe how it feels to get done with school. If only I knew how I would be spending my time after I graduated (this wonderful summer with family and friends and the days ahead of me), those five years would not have been as stressful as I had felt during those years.
If you are struggling, or almost giving up, change your perspective. You may be actually fine.