US Life Lights and Darks – Kazi Falguni Eshita
When I first stepped into the United States of America back in 2015, I was bubbling with excitement. First of all, getting the visa itself seemed like an achievement to me, as I had been refused once before. I was eager to embrace anything new that came my way. I was happy to be on an airplane for the first time in my life.
Little did I know that the so called perfect foreign country life that I had pictured, (thanks to novels and friends who lived in the USA before) might not be so perfect after all. Being here as an international student definitely has its perks, but one’s adaptability and patience might be put to test at times. How? Okay, I’ll give you a sneak peek into my life right now! Enjoy!
First of all, be warned that I didn’t come as an undergraduate or a graduate student, so I do not know much about university life here. I study at one of the top 10 community colleges in the country. I reside in a sweet little single-family house in beautiful California. Alhamdulillah, I stay with my family here, so guidance from elders, along with affection from the youngest members of my family had made my initial adaptation process a lot easier than many others. So, what were my struggles? Let’s see.
What is the first thing one needs, to survive? Food, clothing and a roof over one’s head, correct? I had my roof secured, also had two suitcases filled with clothes. The fruits, bakery and dairy items here are really yummy, and very good for my tummy too. However, I do have bad news for the meat and candy lovers. There are haram items like gelatin and marshmallows (these two are just straight pork fat) mixed in the candies. The lunch station in our cafeteria has bacon, chicken, vegetable, fish…everything prepared using the same utensils. So, even if the dishes look tempting, they are all like the forbidden fruit to me. Every time I pick up something from the cafeteria shelves, I read the ingredients label very carefully before consuming it. I would never want to eat something religiously forbidden, knowingly. I am grateful for the Persian halal restaurant just across the street from my college. Despite being a little expensive, the kababs there are delicious, they satisfy my sudden meat cravings quite well.
Next comes what to wear, what not to wear? Please pick your clothes carefully for every occasion. While there are quite a number of students who just hop into class in a plain t-shirt and jeans, there are others who really like working on their makeup. Moreover, you’d be known for your style, among many other things. I’d always suggest wearing clothes that reflect who you really are. Pick outfits you can carry well. It would be wise not to copy others when it comes to clothes, because what makes one beautiful, can also make someone else look like a zombie.
There are certain strategies to communicate as well. Unlike Bengalis, the Americans do not like being way too nosy about someone’s personal matters. (I love this fact about them). They might take a bit of time to warm up to someone, but once they do, they are really open and broad minded. They can be hard to befriend, but they are great friends once they get to know you. There are some common phrases and abbreviations you’d need to know to converse effectively. Some of them use profanity quite often, so you’d need to train your ears for that as well. If you come here with the F1 visa, a communications course (as part of your academic schedule) would prepare you to understand people better.
The academic costs, are naturally quite heavy. You’d need an even heavier wallet if you need to cover accommodation costs on top of tuition. It costs me somewhere around 4 to 5 thousand dollars per semester (every 4 months). The costs are a lot more for a Bachelors or Master’s degree.
Scholarships are available, but not for international students. Internationals must be full time students, with at least 12 credits in a regular semester. There are on campus jobs available, but there’s a certain CGPA level for those. These jobs can be done from 5 to 20 hours per week. You’ll be paid about 10-13 dollars an hour.
I admire the location of Pasadena City College. Students mostly commute by their own cars. Though getting a proper parking spot can be a real pain in the neck at times. Students can get a semester-long parking permit for 65 dollars, or buy daily parking passes for 2 dollars a day. Moreover, the Uber or Lyft services can come in handy in case of emergency. Depending on the distance, an Uber ride can cost you from 10 dollars onwards. I do not know how to drive, and I really enjoy the bus rides here, so I prefer my darling Metro bus service over every other mode of transportation. The seats are really comfortable, and these busses are air conditioned. Most importantly, they come at fixed time intervals, so there is no need to wait long hours. One (one way) Metro ride will cost you $1.75. There is also a difference between peak and off-peak hour fares. Disabled people and senior citizen get special discounts for the bus rides.
If you don’t keep up properly with your homework and assignments, they can seem very overwhelming and stressful towards the end of a semester. It is always good to be involved in club work to know the community around you. There will be several volunteering opportunities too. Make sure you keep your grades high enough to avoid the death-trap called probation. One low- grade semester can have an irreversible impact on your transcript.
Overall, international student life is what you actually make out of it. Student life will give you a ton of lemons, so prepare your perfect lemonade recipe from now on.