Nimarta Narang | Hello U.S.A
Perspective of an International Student
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 10:09
Miss, you haven’t left any tip!” A waiter stops me outside the restaurant as I’m beginning my journey back to the hotel. This is a strange occurrence. “But isn’t it optional and included already?” I ask what, in retrospect, seems like such an ignorant, yet overly naïve question. “You always have to leave a tip...” he replies. With that, I grudgingly remove three $1 bills from my wallet. I think the waiter regrets stopping me in the first place.
“It’s 76 degrees Fahrenheit.” What? So...would that make it warm or chilly? Is it weather calling for shorts or a cardigan? I ask for the temperature in Celsius. The man gives a contorted expression and starts laughing. I then realize how this entire time I could have whipped out my phone to check the weather.
I enter a dorm and the first words I hear on the Tufts campus go something like this: “Wow, that’s sick man!” What is sick? What does that even mean? Why is “that” sick, and not “he” or “she”? I head over to speculate and see two boys staring at a water fountain, taking turns revelling at a machine that spurts out water. I am horribly confused.
These are among the few encounters I’ve had since landing in the U.S. I had really believed that my avid consumption of TV shows such as “New Girl,” “Modern Family,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Office” would prepare me for the little customs here and there of American culture. I now know how silly I was; no amount of TV could have ever helped me avoid these circumstances. I’ve been at Tufts for only two weeks, and I’ve already learned the Fahrenheit equivalence to Celsius (assuming my mnemonic device of “if it’s sixty, then it’s sunny” is correct), to carry a few extra dollars in my wallet (I’m not that cheap), that “sick” actually means “awesome” and that no one really says “awesome” if they can say “sick.”
Growing up in Thailand, I would see streets bombarded with tourists asking for directions or explanations behind certain practices. I find it oddly liberating enacting the role of the tourist for the first time, and rather fitting as I’m here as a student and am learning by just experiencing. I’m constantly struck that when people ask, “How are you doing?” they don’t expect an answer and it is, in fact, just a friendlier way of saying “Hello.” Just this past Monday was the first time I had ever consumed a slice of apple pie — and let me tell you, it was good. Being able to drink the tap water is already impressive, but it will take a while to internalize the irony of drinking water from the sink where you brush your teeth (or do you not do that?).
It has only been two weeks, and I’ve been through all of that and a lot more. My emotions are as temperamental as the weather here. Sometimes I find myself so happy to be walking along the beautiful trees and hills, and other times I find myself feeling a little homesick and lonely, as the sharp wind forces me to clutch my cardigan. This is what it feels like being in college in the U.S. for an international student, but I have to remember that this is just the beginning. I’ll be navigating through more aspects of American culture, and I hope you’ll find it interesting how I, as an international student, handle it. I am now only waiting for the time when I begin feeling like a local, and I won’t be too scared taking the T into the heart of Boston. Oh, and also seeing snow because I hear it’s pretty.