Here is my column for this week’s Collegian issue.
Studying overseas will open a new world outside the conventional quarters; a sphere from a completely new dimension will spring forth. The most austere of affairs will take on a new meaning when you are in a distant land. As you discover new things by living on your own and advance your intellectual capacities, you will also be so far away from your loved ones – families and friends would be missed constantly.
The hardest days living abroad are the first few weeks. These are the days when you feel like you are somewhere in outer space and that nobody cares for an alien like you. Everything looks new and strange. Even the air that fills your lungs surprises you. No phone calls. No close friends around to fill your emptiness. You are in a big bubble rolling on a strange planet, waiting to be explored. Yes, the first few days in Brookings, South Dakota surely feel like that.
Brookings is a city, but I call it a university town. It is a town that offers limited number of malls, shops, bars, restaurants, and places that may divert your attention from your studies. It is probably a good thing because everyone gets to be familiar with everyone. If you are old enough to frequent the bars on weekends, you would most likely know and befriend other frequent bar hoppers and make connections with them. Or if you are a coffee lover like me, you can stay at Cottonwood on nighttime and make friends with the baristas and even with regular customers. Luxury comforts in Brookings are limited but that does not mean you should limit your social life too.
Get yourselves involved in sports. Join the theater groups, or the SDSU Statesmen, or the Women’s Chorus and showcase your talents. There are hundreds of student organizations to choose from, so pick a group that tickles your fancy. I know a few who have enlisted themselves in more than one organization. You can join as many groups or do as many extra-curricular activities as your time commitment allows. You can read Matt Tollefson’s column two weeks back for a wealth of student activities you can do while studying in Brookings.
Warning: Brookings can be very depressing at times. For international students, you may find the town devoid of fun, especially if you are the type of person who cannot live without seeing busy sidewalks or high-rise buildings or neon lights on 24-hour shops. The first few days would all be about wondering what brought you in Brookings, and thinking how to go to a supermarket to buy food.
I had the same ordeal. Knowing nobody and without a transportation, I had to walk at long distances just to buy ready-to-eat meals. I could not even cook because the common kitchen in Wecota hall does not provide kitchen utensils, unlike the student flat I used to live when I was in Europe. The residential restaurants serve food in short cycles that you get bored at some point and, also, you could not expect them to prepare your favorite dish. There is no so much variety really that would cater to international cuisines.
Start to make friends today. During depressing days, which will happen this winter, you need your friends to keep you sane. Then find a friend with a car. When Brookings is all covered with snow, knee-high, it is very impossible to walk to WalMart or even to the nearest fast-food chain. And if you are someone who owns a car, give the new international students free rides. Bring them with you when you shop. It would not only make your day but, most of all, you would earn a friend.