Heavy hearts, clear minds: the story of international students

Editor's Note: This is part two of a story that was printed in The Spectator on Sept. 23, 2016. Part one of the story can be found here.

Anush Aryal


He didn’t speak to his roommate for three days. Now, he understands that his roommate was going through the same experience and they could have made things better had they hugged and consoled each other. 

“This is real tough pill to swallow for the international students,” said William “Billy” Simmons, the coordinator of International Student Services at The W. “They have spent 18 to 20 years of their lives in one place, and when you change that all of a sudden – new place, new faces and new culture – this is indeed overwhelming.”

So it was understandable that Kharel and his fellow international first-years were struggling to cope in the new environment. 

“I advise them to make American friends, do new things,” said Simmons. “And it helps to learn the American culture and adapt.”

In Rome, do what the Romans do. The international students needed to look at this not as though they were being born again, but that they were metamorphosing into butterflies. Their time as a caterpillar was up.

Many of the students began their journey to adaptation in Stark Rec Center. The students were given access to a gym, swimming pool, basketball court, X-Box and more… often before they were even enrolled in a class. More than that, they were allowed a place to meet, make friends among each other and use the games and social interaction to get out of their gloom, boredom and homesickness.

It takes a real courage to step out of your place and go to an alien nation in search of your dreams. You have to take care of yourself, travel more than all your travels in life combined and tackle the unexpected. You leave behind your favorite foods, your high school sweethearts and your other dear ones. You have to deal with the place and people that are not as cool as they are shown in the movies and television shows. When Dr. Paul Mack, a biology professor at The W, referred to four Nepalese students staying behind to learn Canvas as heroes, he meant it. Their actions are heroic, more than many American students realize.

Simmons stays in touch with students throughout their application and arrival process. He acknowledges the support of the cafeteria and Stark in helping students settle into their new environment. He also spoke well of the peer mentors at The W.

“Last year, the number of new international arrivals was about 70,” said Simmons. “This had kind of given us the feel of how it should be done, and the experience came in handy. Not only the students – we, too, were overwhelmed at the beginning. But patience was key. The peer mentors cooperated well. They had been in a similar situation in the past, so they knew it better.”

Besides the Rec Center, Kharel got help from YouTube channels that provided funny videos to cheer him up and motivation to bring back the feelings he had in Nepal. Legal, economic and medical formalities provided further distraction. American students moved in. The start of the semester grew closer. In the words of Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, everything gave way and nothing stayed fixed.

Life was starting to flow.

When Blues Week arrived, Kharel enjoyed himself, showing off dance moves that would later be used in a video compilation for the university’s Facebook page. He went to a rally where students were divided into different groups and given a place to interact and get to know each other. At an organizational fair, he learned about different clubs and organizations on campus. His favorite part of the week, however, was the rave party. Students came out in huge numbers to dance and enjoy themselves, and Kharel was surprised when Nepali songs were played to the crowd. 

“For a moment, it looked like there is no tomorrow,” said Kharel. “We did not want the night to end. The Blues Week helped us to get over the relic of tragedy and stress of this travel.”
Simmons agreed.

“They have done the hard part right,” said Simmons. “Now, it’s just a matter of time before they get used to it. They are an enthusiastic bunch of people with a lot to offer. Last year, the majority of arriving Nepalese students had lines of anxiety, as they had just recovered from the trauma of the earthquake. Students this year seem calmer. They are energetic and so much fun to work with.”

Now that the semester has begun, Kharel and his peers start the mission for which they traveled half of the world. They continue the hard work and perseverance that brought them here as they walk in the path to be a better scholars and most importantly, better humans with each tick of time. Their time here will enable them to attain their life goals and make their families proud. 

The hard part hasn’t completely left them, but life will soon be good to them again.