My three-month immersion in India was indescribable, life changing, amazing… and every other clichéd way of describing something wonderful. As I have mentioned, I learned about myself, gained confidence and grew up in many ways. As the three months came to a close, I couldn’t wait to hug and squeeze my loved ones back in America.
After a long plane ride of watching American movies and eating my Americanized plane food, I had finally arrived back at JFK. I dropped my bags and ran towards my family, with tears rolling down my face. My heart felt so full. I was home.
But home felt different. Driving from the airport to my house, I looked out my window and what I saw was so grey and quiet. Given, it was December in New York, but it was so drastically different from what I was used to seeing during the past three months. There were no more cows, people all over the streets, colors, spice markets, sitar sounds or fruit stands. There was nothing. The earth felt empty.
Confusion set in. A few weeks passed by and I felt it was hard to smile. I forced myself to spend time with my family and friends. But I felt I couldn’t relate to anyone anymore. I didn’t agree with what others were saying, or how they were acting. I felt so removed from my life and myself.
There was one day when I walked into a supermarket with my mom to do some grocery shopping. I looked all over the shelves. Bulks of food, packaging and plastic were all I saw. So much waste. It frustrated me.
I never wanted to leave my bed. I started to hate the words coming from everyone’s mouths. I missed India, where life felt so real, and no one took anything for granted. I felt that in America, everyone had so much. SO, SO much! Yet, everyone complained constantly. I found that I was having a hard time sleeping. I would lie awake at night with thoughts rushing through my head. My biggest stress at that moment was college. I was leaving in just a few shorts weeks and I so desperately did not want to go.
Prior to leaving India, I was told by another American girl that the reverse culture shock was far more intense than the culture shock of first arriving in a foreign country. Basically, she warned me that going home would suck. And I didn’t believe her. “How could that even be possible?” But little did I know, that girl was so right.
And then college came…
All at once I arrived at the University of Miami in January of freshman year. I had no idea what to expect, but all I knew is I didn’t want to be there. I know, it’s nuts, I mean, IT’S MIAMI! How could I not want to be there? Well, it was more just the idea of college itself. I didn’t want college. I wanted to travel and that’s it. But here I was, in a college dorm room with no friends.
Culture shock reached an all time high.
Miami could not be more opposite of India. All I could see during my first few weeks were designer bags and materialism. It felt as if I traveled to a different world and I was learning to re-acclimate. It was a scary feeling. But going to college is scary in itself. You can’t find one girl who goes to college and kills it every second of the way. The beginning is always going to be tough and you’re going to cry on the phone to your parents or stalk high school pictures. But trust me, it gets better. And when I say “better” I mean really, truly amazing.
It took some time for me to realize that, though. I was still adjusting to culture shock. I was still confused. And now I was at college. I felt that loneliness and anxiety I had felt when I first got to India. But just like my India anxiety, I grew and reached a new level of maturity. I thought I couldn’t grow any more than I had while abroad, but apparently I had more to overcome.
I knew I had to find a way to shine. I got out there in my first semester. I began to meet more people. I also began to feel confident in my own skin to do things alone. For instance, it’s okay to eat a meal by yourself. It’s okay to skip a night of going out and just have you-time by sitting with a friend and painting your nails. It’s okay to not instagram every single second just to prove to others that you’re making friends. It’s okay to go to office hours or sit in Starbucks to write an English essay or join a club you know no one in. What do you have to lose? I learned to do what made me happy, and I have tried to share this message through my involvement with She’s Fit to Lead.
I gave myself a semester to make myself truly happy. Sure, by making myself happy I took part in late-night dining and ate chicken fingers at 1 am with friends I had made. But hey, that’s what freshman year is all about, right?
Now, a year and a half later, I reflect on my insane year in such a positive way. I threw myself in a whirlwind, India to the culture shock to college. In one year I grew more than I thought possible. And I promise, all the anxiety and confusion and fear is all worth it when you see how far you’ve come in the end.
Stephanie Schneider is a She’s Fit to Lead Community Director and contributing writer. University of Miami ’17