One week ago I arrived in Scotland to attend the University of St. Andrews and moved into my new flat. Immediately I felt welcomed by my lovely roommate Katherine and other friends and neighbors. I jumped into orientation week and enjoyed getting to know my diverse community of colleagues in the Graduate School of interdisciplinary studies coming from places like Syria, Zimbabwe, Poland, India, Italy, Greece, Germany, Norway, USA, and UK. After working with international students for the past 5 years, it’s exciting to be one…
And yet, it’s also hard. I’ve moved across 11 time zones and live on the complete opposite side of the globe. I left the warm sands of Hawai’i for the chilly windy coasts of Scotland. With the change of environment and weather, there is little about me externally that has stayed the same and sometimes I hardly recognize myself. First, I am wearing an entirely new set of clothes—no more dresses and slippers (sandals) but instead, sweaters, jackets, and boots—and learning how to dress for cold rainy weather. Second, I no longer have a car but rely on cycling and walking to get around (which is interesting when carrying pillows or groceries home!). Third, since I’m now a student, I needed to upgrade my technology and now use a new laptop, ipad, and desk setup.
It’s all been such a rush of excitement and adjustment that my soul feels fragmented and needs to catch up. This morning especially, I found myself in need of familiarity to help center me and give my soul time to catch up with the whirlwind of changes. I went to the kitchen to make my familiar cup of tea with a spoonful of honey and generous douse of cream. I grabbed my Bible and devotional and lit a candle. Despite the morning chill, I cracked the window open and threw a wool blanket over my legs as I eased into the Ikea chair and looked out toward the sea.
And then I was home… remembering another Ikea chair where I sat so many mornings in my second floor apartment in Honolulu, candle lit, Bible open, tea in hand, and ocean in the distance. I breathed deeply in gratitude then chuckled internally with the sound of cars and busses whizzing by. Back on 10th Ave in Kaimuki, O’ahu, the loud reverberations of street noise was my biggest complaint. But now, I was comforted by the sounds of traffic, letting it connect me to a place 11 time zones away, a place I loved so much.
I started to cry for no apparent reason, missing that life I left behind, both the place and the people. Familiar faces of international student friends flashed through my memory like a slide projector and I remembered all our hikes, beach trips, conversations over coffee, and group Bible studies—I miss them so much! Though at the time, I was their American host in a land of unfamiliarity, now they have become my teachers. They are the ones who went before me leaving homes with their familiar foods and the laughter of family and friends to come to a place many time zones away to study and grow. They are the brave ones who did school in a second language (or third or fourth language), stretching their thinking and reforming cerebral pathways in the process.
While I’m not studying in a second language, I am experiencing a new academic system that calls me a “post-grad” instead of a graduate student, with “marks” instead of grades, with “modules” instead of classes, with “programs” instead of majors. Even more, it’s been a 10 year lapse since I graduated with a bachelors degree and I need to re-learn how to use a library for research, keep pace with the 30+ hours of reading expected each week, and make correct references and citations. As I stretch myself into the new, I am holding onto the familiar, remembering that I am the same person that sat in the Ikea chair in Honolulu and welcomed international students to a new place… only now, I am one of them.