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For International Students, Adjusting Can Be Tough

If you are coming to this college from Boston, New York, or anywhere else in New England, stop reading now. This article is for those of you out there of the Class of 2004 for whom Harvard is not exactly in your hometown--or state, or country. As someone whose home is a 26-hour plane ride away, I can say to you that traveling this far for school will bring with it some inconveniences but also certain joys for your first year at Harvard.

Sure, being far away from home has its disadvantages. Visits home will be far less frequent than your fellow first-years who drive home every other weekend. You may find yourself going back only for summer and winter breaks, and having to make other arrangements for Thanksgiving, Spring Break and all the other gaps in the calendar. You will miss your family and your friends, and may become out of touch with the gossip back home. I recently discovered, for example, that one of my 21-year old high school friends and her boyfriend had been shopping for a wedding ring, while all my other friends who stayed in the area for college had been in the loop about this for a few weeks now. In the same way, "home" will be visiting you far less often too. I have roommates whose parents come up every year at move-in and move-out, while my own parents will have visited Harvard only twice over my four years here: first-year orientation week and senior graduation.

During the year, being an "international student" also brings other inconveniences. The time difference means my parents and I have to coordinate in advance when I'm calling home. During move out every year, I cannot drive or even ship home what I cannot fit into summer storage. Birthday and holiday cards and presents to home have to be prepared and mailed out at least a week in advance. These and other inconveniences of living far away from home will train you to grumble at your friends from New York who complain of homesickness.

Despite these negatives, coming to Harvard from far away does have its charming side. One of the major appeals would definitely be the freedom and opportunity this distance offers. Going to school far away from home forces you to try new things while at Harvard, going against a tendency you may have as a first-year to cling to old things as a comfort when you feel homesick. During your first year at college, you would most likely seek comfort in relying on old things and old friends. Being so far away from them will force you to learn to explore things you haven't tried before. Instead of calling on old friends when you miss home, you will instead learn to be supported by the company of new ones at Harvard to get you through your freshman year. New friends will invite you to their homes for breaks when a trip back home is impossible for you, and you will come to know your new friends that much deeper and to appreciate their kindness that much more. In this process of turning to new things as a first-year, you will learn to feel more at home in your new college.

As you go through your first year and find your place on campus, you can look forward to seeing your home in a new light upon your next return. As is often pointed out, it takes a trip away to make you appreciate what you once found familiar. If you are coming to Harvard from the West coast or overseas, you will learn to appreciate those old friends who make an effort to stay in touch, who take the time to check in with you and to update you on all the latest happenings back home. As visits home appear scarce, you will come to treasure your returns and time spent with family that much more.

If you are apprehensive about leaving home for a college that is this far away, learn instead to look forward to your next return when you will be able to see your familiar settings in a refreshed light. That way, not only will you enjoy immersing yourself in your new environment over your first year, you will also come to appreciate what your new experience teaches you about your old surroundings.

Dawn Lee '01 is an East Asian Studies concentrator in Leverett House. She is the webmaster of The Crimson's website, www.thecrimson.com.