My Life as a Cultural Chameleon

25 Sep

You would think traveling around the world and coming from another country would make me totally cool slidin’ into my freshman year, right? Hilarious–but wrong.

I get the same comments all the time when I meet someone:

“You’re so cool, you’re European!” No, um…

“C’mon! You’re exotic! That must be exciting; you’re so lucky!” No, thanks, but really you have no idea…

Truth be told, I was scared out of my mind to come to the US, a giant western country, to study. I moved here from across world (Southeastern Europe), and to make matters even more difficult, I graduated with a class of only 30 students.

Yes 3-0. You did read that correctly. 30.

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I know. You must be wondering, “How is that even possible?” To make a long story short, I attended a small private international school in my home country. I never thought I would come halfway across to world to attend one of the largest state school’s in the USA, but I took the leap and here I am today, a UA sophomore with many friends, feeling confident in a comfortable environment. I’ve truly come so far, and I’m glad I sifted through the awkward and overwhelming social space and population to find my sense of belonging.

But I’m getting ahead of myself to the happy ending of the story… There had to be some transitional struggle from landing on American soil till now, no? There most certainly was.

Maybe this is new information to you, but many people in the US have very different social norms, etiquette, and overall general conversation topics from Europeans. tumblr_lq6iyjp3CI1r1b10xo1_500

Quite frankly, I wasn’t accustomed to some sarcastic social cues, certain slang, or even humor. I had no idea how to drum up a conversation with anyone, I felt strange and isolated. I felt like an outsider, or worse, I felt like a freak.

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I didn’t know what Greek life was, and I couldn’t hold a conversation about American sports.I didn’t know what Urban Outfitters was, and I had never even heard of Jamba Juice or Chick-fil-A (the food was just plain weird and extremely greasy).

[For a reference of how odd I felt, imagine me going to my first fraternity party lookin’ a lot like him…]

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I spent the majority of my first semester going to class and going straight back to my dorm room to stick my nose in my computer the rest of the day to talk to my friends and family across the world . I was angry, frustrated, and clearly overwhelmed by how big the UA is and just how many people there are on campus. I wanted to go back to my small hometown, to my old school mates and family (not to mention eat GMO-free food). It even got to the point where I wanted to transfer to a European university my second semester.

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By December of my Freshman year I started to enjoy the new found daily conversations I had with my R.A. and hall mates in the dorm. I started to resist less, and let myself just experience the cultural differences, despite leaving my comfort zone. I was making friends, and started going to campus events. I immersed myself and adapted, as does the chameleon. If you feel like you don’t belong, don’t panic. Again, take my advice when I tell you: don’t give up just yet! This is a new environment for all of us, and you’ll find your niche in time. If I had given up and run back home to my safety zone, I never would have met all the wonderful people I know today, and I never would have challenged myself to grow the ways I did.

-Cheers mates!

Leylah

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And of course, no good blog would be complete without an appropriate jingle…

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