For years, my only dream was to leave Romania and start my life in the United States. The moment I saw my country for the last time through the little plane window, my eyes filled with tears.
With each mile I put behind me, the knot in my stomach tightened — a constant tug, a reminder of all I held dear. I felt like an invisible string was pulling me back toward everything I loved and knew.
I thought time would make the longing disappear, but I couldn't have been further from the truth. As days turned into weeks, I started to miss the food, the traditions, the culture and the places. But, most importantly, I missed my people.
The first few weeks passed slowly, and I tried to navigate through lectures, tears and the wish to fit in. The feeling of being a stranger didn't go away, and the fear of talking in English deepened because my accent was evident in the mass of people speaking the language fluently. Being conscious of all my flaws, it was hard to socialize, so loneliness became my closest friend. I was alone and felt an emptiness in my life that used to be filled by Romania and everything it represented.
When I started my courses, I became so busy that I no longer had time to worry about my accent, the distance between me and my family or the loneliness, even with everything I was going through. My extroverted side, which had been hiding under a blanket of shame those past weeks, shined through overnight. In just a few days, I undid the damage my worries caused and made friends. I wasn't anxious to go to the dining hall alone anymore, and I started speaking more.
I rediscovered my love for storytelling, sharing tales of my life and homeland and keeping my culture alive with every narrative. I found people with the same energy as me — Americans, Bangladeshis and even a Romanian — and they made me feel alive again. I felt like the strong girl who, at only 18, left her country and flew across the globe to follow a dream.
Right now, I've just signed a lease for an apartment with three other amazing friends; every night, I go to my two other friends, who are also international students, for a venting session. I have friends in every lecture and feel more powerful than ever.
I still miss my family and coffee runs with my best friend, and I look forward to returning home for Christmas, but now, I don't want to go back, to run away from America and the hardships here.
For better or worse, an international student feels alone in their experience but forgets that the remaining 3,000 international students experience the same universal feeling.
So, this journal of the international student is for all those who get somewhere and feel the pangs of loneliness. Know that it's a natural part of the journey and that we've all experienced it. Forge ahead, for if you reveal anything, it's your indomitable strength.