In the final month of our life in Papua New Guinea, Michael and I were sitting on my back porch; I was reeling, searching for the right words, wanting so desperately to prepare him for his soon-to-be life abroad. I was born in America, after all, I should know this stuff.
But I just sat there, speechless. If I had known what to say, I would have said it. I just...didn't.
We were dating 7 months before our hearts split in two. We traveled across the world at separate times, and we landed in two very different places— he, underneath the palm trees of Pensacola, Florida, and I, in the middle of Amishtown America in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
My man is level-headed and unbelievably courageous, and in almost every way, he has faced American culture with more grace than I have. But nevertheless, if I could go back and tell him 10(ish) things that would keep him from a those mini heartbreaks, I wouldn't skip a beat.
Americans are some of the most competitive people in the world. In work, sport travel, and in almost everything else, there is a constant state “busy”. To be busy is an accomplishment, and its the pace of things that get so much stuff done, but its also the reason we're so stressed out and abrasive all of the time.
Community isn’t as easily achieved here, either-- its all about independence. You can find a solid group of friends here, absolutely, but it's more of a process than at home.
People are going to stare at you, and not say anything. It's weird and uncomfortable, but here, it's not considered disrespectful. They don't say anything because they're in their own worlds of thought. And it's oftentimes considered irresponsible to speak up to a stranger (think "stranger danger"). It's different enough from the Highlands Scowl at home, because regardless of your relationship with anyone there, they will always greet you with a smile and a good word--because community is a big deal. But here, it's called Resting Face, and they'll stare and stare and stare, but they don't usually mean anything by it.
When it’s hot outside, people wear less clothes. It's a universal concept. But when you get here, glue your eyeballs to the ceiling, boy, because FL is as hot as Satan's armpit.
America may be the land of excess, but there will be times when you feel like there’s nothing to do or eat. Sometimes, you won’t be able to afford it, and other times, it just won’t be worth it. Stores don't stay open for forever (most close before 8pm) and fast food is expensive and nasty. Cue the real-life story of McDonald's Meatless Grease-Bomb.
You’ll pay an arm and a leg for fruit too, and it’s seasonal. When you move to VA, here's a handy-dandy guide to fruit buying.
Generally, American men are loud, proud and drive one of two vehicles: large trucks or fancy-pants cars that can be heard from way-too-far-away.
American roads may be lots better than those at home, but driving here can be a lot more dangerous. There are morons everywhere, and you will catch yourself asking how they even got their license in the first place. And they all tailgate.
The DMV is stupid. And when you get your license, or go to register your car, read this blog first. (plug plug plug)
American mattresses are filled with springs and air. Buy a foam one as soon as you can, lest yours busts 2 springs and you get sucker-punched at 3:00 in the morning (true story).
As with every new experience, there is a honeymoon phase for international students when they come to the States. America is so different from other countries, and for the simple fact that its a place that presents untainted opportunity-- everything is exciting, at least for awhile. It's when the reality of it all sinks in that the craziness begins.
Michael and I are currently writing a mini-blog series about what that looked like for us. First and foremost, we want to remind you that you are not alone-- no matter how lonely you feel. We hope that our mistakes and misconceptions of American culture, will be your step above-- let us equip you with the tools we wish we had.
Stay tuned for An International Student's Guide to University in America.
Let us know what your Next Big Thing is in the comments below. We'll get in contact with you ASAP. And hey, maybe I'll make a post about it. If we experienced it, we've got about 100 stories to share, and they're all pretty entertaining.
Thanks so much.