International Perspective: Blogging the First Days in the USA

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Countdown: T-minus 7 days.

I don’t think I’ve actually processed I’m going to college yet. I don’t think I’ve even processed I graduated from high school. I’m not sure if I’m emotionally detached or something, but it just doesn’t click!

It seems almost impossible this is my last week in this country, Guatemala, which has been my home for the last 17 years, and will soon be fading away, getting progressively smaller as seen from an airplane window.

Granted, I’m not heading for campus right away, I’m getting to PA a few days early (Stuff to buy, Places to be, IKEA furniture to assemble…), but, still.

Countdown: T-minus 1 day.

Leaving tomorrow!! Still seems weird. But it’s starting to get to me.

It’s kinda like watching a huge ball slowly getting closer, until it suddenly explodes in your face in a glorious mélange of excitement, anxiety, euphoria, and complete terror.

It’s been a fun week though, and I hated saying goodbye to all of my closest friends. I cried a lot today, too, but I’ll be fine tomorrow morning.

D-day (August 21st)

Wow, this is crazy.

More on that later because I’m super tired.

August 22

Okay, yesterday went fine. Except for the ridiculously long customs/immigration line that seemed to go on for like 5 miles. Super glad that’s over.
But, see, as my parents and I waited for 2 and a half hours in the customs line from Hell, I had a lot of time to think. Time to think about the fact that I won’t be leaving the U.S in, well, a while. Feels pretty permanent-y. Also time to think about not having mom and dad around, which doesn’t only mean I get to go partying and not have to go home early, it means I’m on my own. Almost completely on my own, which is, I’m sure, a new feeling for most freshmen. This is probably the scary part of my inner soliloquy. But there are also the exciting parts; the meeting new people, the going to awesome clubs and activities, the Doctor Who screenings (OMG NEW SEASON STARTS SEPTEMBER 1ST), all of that great stuff.

So yeah, during the flight I tried to concentrate on Jane Austen’s Emma, but my brain wouldn’t shut up with all of that ^.

Today was actually pretty cool, and a bit hectic. We went to campus first thing after breakfast (we’re staying at a hotel), to get my student ID. We were told it wasn’t ready yet though, so we got Diane, a very nice lady, to show us around the Parrish Hall dorms –where I’ll be staying for this semester– and I was very glad to see that they’re pretty spacious.

After that, we went for some lunch at Springfield Mall, where I also got my new phone. It was surprisingly simple, after hearing all those horror stories from family friends who also have kids studying in the U.S.

We went back to Parrish to pick up my I.D, also very easy, and very pleasant, since we met the international advisor, Jennifer Gold (who is super, super nice).

We also needed to go to the bank to apply for my credit card. This part sucked because we had to stay there for like 3 hours, since there was a problem with getting it because I’m not 18 years old yet and we don’t have a social security number because we’re not from the U.S. It’s supposed to be okay now, but I’m not sure.

The rest of the day was uneventful, but we did go to the supermarket for a few cans of Pringles and lots of marshmallow fluff (Hooray!).

August 23

Wow my feet hurt like freaking Nifleheim. I just learned that’s the Norse word for Hell by the way; I’m just trying to sound cultured and all that.

We did an approximately 6 hour-long EPIC trip to Ikea for essential dorm room stuff. It could have been way shorter, but it was our first time there and Ikea is really weird. At least for foreign people who’ve never been there before.
So, after being completely confused for a while, we sort of got the hang of it and went through the whole showroom (which is basically optional, but we didn’t know!!), and then to that marketplace thing where you can get the stuff you saw in the showroom, and finally to the self-service furniture area. It’s basically like a mixture between a please-touch museum and a supermarket, but for furniture.

You should’ve seen the car, it was full of those huge Ikea bags. But you really should have seen it after we went to Target. I think we spent more money at Target than at Ikea, which I find kind of ridiculous, but I guess Downy and Tide are relatively expensive, especially if you’re buying all of that cleaning stuff at once.

We went to the campus to pick up Ximena, another girl from Guatemala who goes to Swat, and went for some dinner to Media. It was a very pleasant evening, and I think my parents were happy to find someone who seems like a very good influence for me. Ximena is awesome and totally lovely, and also co-president of the international club. Go Guatemala!!

August 25

SO TIRED. My parents helped me do a very thorough cleaning up of my dorm this morning. We found like 4 playing cards, a few photos, and old paper from like 1972 or something. Also spiders. And mysterious stains that were luckily relatively easy to get out.

My room looks adorable now though, so I’m happy.

That took us about 3 and a half hours, so we went to the hotel to get changed and cleaned up a bit before going to the international reception for students and families. It was very nice, they had poppycock (which is always good), and also people from Myanmar and Nepal and all sorts of cool places like that. I’d never met anyone from Vietnam or Malaysia before, so I felt a bit like I had a huge compilation of those Lonely Planet travel books by the time introductions were over.

After that we had a little session where we all got to hear nightmarish and terribly funny travel stories (including a lost passport, missing luggage, and sleeping on airport floors). A bit like playing misery poker, except not with homework. This was all going on while our parents where in another room asking questions about all sorts of worrisome things, like exposure to alcohol and drugs and whether we would get some kind of sanction for being absent from class.

Later, we had veggie wraps from the Mediterranean restaurant and a failed attempt of a mini tour around the Ville. Lesson? Always carry a megaphone with you when dealing with large groups of people. When we got back to Kohlberg Hall, we played a few name games (Adriana Artichoke here), which were actually rather fun. Finally, we had some DIY trailmix –kindly provided by I-20, the international club, as is all of orientation– and some mingling time.

Now I’m back at the hotel and I am so ready for bed.

August 26

Well, today we had some light breakfast with Rebecca Chopp (President, and, I’ve heard, very Choppular around Swat) and Liz Braun, Dean of Students. It was very informative, also had some funny highlights, so that was nice.

Things only started getting serious though when Jen Gold, who is the international student advisor, started talking about Visas and our F-1 status. We heard a few horror stories about people getting deported and sent to jail (nice welcome to the U.S, I know!) for working off campus and not showing up to class and stuff like that. We also learned a bit about our social security application forms, and we found out we need to have a job by tomorrow at 3:00 pm to actually be eligible for social security, with absolutely no time to job hunt! Super!

Later, we had some lunch at Sharples, which wasn’t bad at all! Very surprisingly not bad, coming from all of the Internet complaining and all that. I made myself a weird Pita bread sandwich with some cheese from the Deli thing and some stuff from the Salad bar. I also had some really good marble cake and some lemonade. Pretty plain, but, still.

After lunch, we split up into four groups. Two of the groups went on a Target run, while we stayed behind and got an impromptu tour of the Orientation Leaders’ favorite places on campus. It was fun, and then I got like 15 minutes to do a little bit more of unpacking. We switched activities with the other two groups, but since my (new but awesome) friend Veda from Nepal and I had already gotten all of our Target-y stuff, we decided to go to Macys! I got an incredible bargain for a pair of shorts that were marked down from $19.50 to $4.99.

When we got back, we had a barbeque at the (I guess) Wharton courtyard place? I’m not sure where it was exactly, just that there were some really amazing brownies and good company.

Our schedule said that we were supposed to go to the Intercultural Center after that, but it was closed. So we sat outside for a while and got eaten alive by mosquitoes while we all reminded everyone else of our name and country of origin, and also had to say our favorite ice cream flavor (Nutella!).

When the I.C.E was finally opened, we did this hilarious Q&A session with the Orientation Leaders, where we got to find out a lot of stuff about Swat parties, and studying for finals, and what to do if you think Sharples sucks. We also learned some new words like “Swakward”, which I think will be very easily assimilated into my regular vocabulary. And I’m super tired again. Also, my mom wants to discuss how I’m expected to behave once my parents go back to Guatemala, so I have to cut the writing off here. Be back tomorrow!

August 27
8:45 Breakfast, banking talk, filling out forms, job hunting, Ethiopian food at upper tarble, campus resources, philly trip!!! And then hanging out ☺

Today we had an early morning breakfast-banking talk combo, where we got to find out how to write checks in English and important grown-up stuff like that. Then, some very nice people from the Payroll and Student Employment offices came to help us fill out our Social Security number applications (which was mayhem and very loud). Like 500 spare forms later, we all managed to get all of the pages right.
We still needed to actually get jobs on campus though, so a few people from Athletics and a very nice lady from the Student Activities Office came over and let us know about a couple of jobs they have open. Most of us scrambled to get one of their signatures on our Social Security papers –I’m an events assistant now–, and then we made photocopies of our passports, visas, I-94s, and I-20s (weird customs forms).

We were a tiny bit ahead of our schedule, so we got some time to go job hunting. I might be offered something from the Dance Department at Lang Performing Arts Center (pleaseeee), and I also got a bit of extra time to continue unpacking. And no, I still haven’t finished.

After that, we got some super cool and delicious Ethiopian lunch at Upper Tarble, and met a few of the Tri Co Summer Institute students as well. Then, we had to go back to the Science Center for a talk on campus resources, which was actually very interesting. We learned about the Writing Program, Alcohol Education and Intervention, Financial Aid, Career Services, and Counseling and Psychological Services. These were all presented by very friendly-looking people, so it was pleasant. We also learned more about the Black and Intercultural Centers, and what they do.

We had a short break after that, during which my parents brought in my last suitcase (I have three total, don’t worry), and we carried it up to my dorm. Parrish is the best Hall, by the way. Go wooden floors! And being close to everything!

When break was over, we met up at the train station for a trip to Philly! We had to wait for the SEPTA for like 30 minutes, but the rest of the afternoon completely made up for it. All the way to Philly, some friends and I went through a pretty complete collection of popular songs (from Dynamite to The Backstreet Boys, and from Call Me Maybe to Pitbull), successfully making fools of ourselves in front of our international fellows. It was fun though!

When we got out of the train, we visited the LOVE Statue and went into the fountain, where a lot of us got drenched (No one quite was quite as soaked as Raundi from France though). We also caught some guys street performing, which I have on tape (!!) and was very cool.

We walked around for a while since our Orientation Leaders weren’t very orientated themselves, and then they found their way to our goal, which was an amazing gelato shop where I got a great Marshmallow and Raspberry combination.

We walked around some more, and then got time to do whatever we wanted as long as we got back to a rendez-vous point by 9:15 pm. A group of us decided to try authentic Philly Cheesesteak in South Street, which, let me tell you, was a really great choice. After that we just sort of hung out and went into a very inappropriate but also very hilarious store on the street.

The train ride back was also hilarious, and after that we where supposed to have a movie night, but nobody really stuck around for it so it was cancelled. Some of us went to visit a friend’s dorm at Hallowell, where we hung out for a while, and then he was such a gentleman that he decided to walk Veda and I back to Parrish. We hung out some more in my dorm, and it is now 2:03 a.m. And I am still writing this. First all-nighter! Am I doing this right yet?

Still super tired, and I have to be at the science center by 9:00 a.m. Hopefully we’ll all have a great time at all-college orientation!

Adriana Obiols ’16, from Guatemala, was kind enough to share her international experience with The DG (and you!). We’re excited to meet her in person!

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