Finding My Way in a New Place

by Shubhechha Dhar on February 9, 2018

Despite feeling like an in-betweener, I have found ways to adapt to a new culture while still keeping my roots intact.

- Shubhechha Dhar

When I first came to Arcadia in August last semester, I was full of enthusiasm. Everything was new, exciting, and also a little scary. I was super-pumped to experience life abroad. My friends and family from India were just as excited. They pictured me in a fairy-tale life.

After coming here, I realized that it’s not all fun and games. Being an international student at Arcadia has been an incredible experience, but it comes with challenges— from struggling even before I left India with trying to pack one year’s worth of clothes and supplies into two small suitcases, to living with jet lag for the whole first week of college.

Having lived in the humid and warm climate of Mumbai for pretty much my entire life, adjusting to a climate below freezing has not been easy. I was shivering when I stepped out of the airport, despite the 70-degree temperature. Yes, 70 degrees. And it was only going to get worse! (Speaking of the weather, I had to learn to tell the temperature in Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, which was difficult to get a hang of in the beginning.)

The first time I ate a meal on campus, the food seemed bland compared to Indian food, which is known for its spices and unique flavors. I had to update my vocabulary, such as learning to say soccer instead of football. Calculating distance in miles instead of kilometers and learning the American way of spelling things was all new to me. And I was confused when I first read the date in a MM-DD-YY format instead of DD-MM-YY.

Then there was the money. I had no clue how to use it. How was a nickel different from a dime? I still struggle with it.

I couldn’t wait to go back to India for my winter break, to eat Indian food and walk around without multiple layers of clothes. But to my surprise, I experienced a reverse culture shock. I had to tell my mother to make food less spicy (a sentence I thought I would never say) because after eating American food for four months, everything else made my eyes water. I would accidentally look toward my left and then right before crossing the road, instead of the other way round (the driver’s seat in India is on the right). And strangely enough, I couldn’t wait to go back to Arcadia because I realized that my world had become a whole lot bigger as I brought my culture to America, and brought American culture to India when I returned.

Although there are things that I need to do differently when I’m at Arcadia, I feel immensely grateful for the opportunity to study abroad. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, excited, and homesick all at the same time. Despite feeling like an in-betweener, I have found ways to adapt to a new culture while still keeping my roots intact. I dress up traditionally on the days when India is celebrating a festival. Although I do not find the cold weather very pleasant, I remember my wonderment and the smile on my face when I saw snow for the first time. I opened my blinds to find everything covered in a white blanket. It felt like waking up in heaven!

Every moment here is an adventure and an opportunity to learn something new. I love being immersed in a completely different culture— not just American, but every other culture here. Thanks to Arcadia’s study abroad programs, I get to hear about other cultures from my friends who have spent their semesters abroad. When I think of all the things I have gained in the past four months at Arcadia, I realize being so far from home, embedded in a new and very different place, is all worth it.