My turn to be an international student

Written September 2, 2019 in Washington Dulles International Airport during a 12-hour delay on my flight to London for graduate school. 

April 2019 visit to University of St. Andrews – posting with school founder Henry Wardlaw

Since I graduated with my BA in 2009 (Communications, Simpson University) I’ve spent the past 10 years in Christian campus ministry, and the last 5 years reaching out to international students in particular.  Now, as I pursue a graduate degree in Scotland (MLitt Global Social and Political Thought, University of St. Andrews), I have the opportunity to experience what my international friends have walked through in years past.  Instead of being the one to welcome, host, and help, I am the one needing all of the above… I will be the one nervous at orientation next week as I seek to make new friends and find a niche in my program.

I must acknowledge right from the start that while many of my international friends were studying abroad AND in a second language, I only have one barrier to cross (well, in all honestly, I struggle to understand the thick Scottish accents!).  I admire those who have gone before me and crossed oceans, cultures, and languages to expand their understanding and worldview.  They are the brave ones, they are my heroes, and if I can have just a small amount of their courage, then I can be successful in my own endeavor.

As I type, a United agent makes an announcement for travelers going to Germany and in my line of vision I can see two young women from a University in Houston, TX who appear to be undergrads studying abroad.  I am among a tribe of short-term migrants, of privileged academics, making the trek through the skies at the eve of the fall season.  Together we number over 5 million according to which counted 4.8 million degree-seeking students studying internationally in 2016 (not counting those studying abroad).

Friends from Hong Kong studying in Hawai’i Spring 2015

Usually at this time of year, I would be creating posters & fliers, buying snacks, and gathering a group of student leaders and volunteers to help welcome the next wave of international students to University of Hawai’i Manoa.  Being that our campus is situated in the middle of the Pacific, the highest numbers of students came from Japan, China, Korea, and surrounding countries in East and South East Asia.  We would plan welcome parties, beach trips, and other outings to help students build cross-cultural friendships and find a short-term “home” while they studied abroad.  Finally, we would pray for all the students leaving family and friends, packing suitcases, finalizing visas and travel arrangements.

This year I am that student.  The last few months were filled with various stages of moving out of my Honolulu apartment, flinging my belongings across the world from Hawai’i (my home of 5 years), to California (parents house), to Washington (boyfriend’s house), to London (cousin’s house).  I was filling out my scholarship applications, visa application, apartment application, buying flights, and going shopping to make sure I’m equipped for the extreme weather transition I’m making.  I was saying goodbyes to my beloved communities around the Pacific and trying to cram the most essential clothes and sentimental items into 2 suitcases weighing under 50 pounds and one carry-on strategically containing my heavier items but rendering it so heavy that I can barely shove it into the overhead compartment.

While some aspects of preparation have gone smoothly, other aspects have been terribly stressful—particularly the UK student visa application process (which I will share about in a future blog) and understanding international banking (I’m still figuring this out).  While I have certainly battled stress and anxiety, I have also felt the grace of the Lord as I sought his peace, and I have been grateful for friends and family supporting me as well—Thanks guys!

And today I sit in a busy United terminal in Washington Dulles International Airport waiting for my flight to London which is delayed for 12 hours.  Inconvenient, yes, but a perfect time to reflect on what it has taken to get here and look ahead expectant for all that is to come.

2 thoughts on “My turn to be an international student

  1. Dear Rachel, We are so excited for you but also a bit nervous for you, too. Having just made this journey we know it can be stressful….the banking, the accents and the weather. But you have youth and experience in travel on your side as well as our Father. Now He can certainly provide you with all of the protection and sustaining grace that you need! We will be praying for you and looking forward to hearing from you. So from a Scottish relative to a Scottish student I say Bonnie good, wee lassie! You are dearly loved, Uncle Jay and Aunt Mary Jane

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

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