Growing up in Poland and watching movies like Legally Blonde and Pitch Perfect, I always dreamed of my American college experience. I did my research at 16, applied at 18 and at 19, I packed my bags and flew to New York. I did not choose NYC by accident either, because as a fan of Sex and the City, How I Met Your Mother and countless New York-set movies, I felt ready for my big city life.
How is my American college experience going then? How does it really feel as an international student in the United States?
Well, I just finished my junior year changing my program yet again and I never felt happier. I started as legal studies major, unhappy applying for the program only because law is a “respectable thing to study” in Europe and desired program of every good student in Poland. However, one of the professors told me that I shouldn’t waste time studying something I don’t like. My first change came in the form of a political science degree, but yet again, I discovered that my program had nothing to do with the activism I’m so passionate about.
I decided to explore some more with communication arts and Italian minors, and finally, I settled for political science and communication arts double-major. My minor helped me realize that the communications lab made me feel most at home. Together with the incredible faculty, we made communication arts an option even though I already finished my junior year.
This kind of support I enjoy the most, as, in Europe, the faculty doesn’t tend to help or interact with students much outside of lecture halls.
On-campus, my first activity fair felt like I fell through the rabbit hole into Wonderland with so many activities options to choose from, which would be impossible in Europe where students leave university buildings right after lectures. Now I thrive as newly elected vice president of Student Government and member of multiple clubs, which introduced me to friends I will keep for life and broadened my horizons.
Do I always feel like I am on movie-set while living in the United States? No, I am not sipping Cosmopolitans in Manhattan every night. New York’s dirtier than any movie ever showed. Visa restrictions did stand between me and my dream internship more than once. Moreover, you should see the face of my classmates the first time I came to class dressed casually in a white shirt while they were wearing sweatpants.
Still, I learned so many things I wouldn’t in Europe.
I became more independent, as I had no other choice being 4000 miles away from home. I started studying and doing what I am passionate about without looking over my shoulder for a nod of approval, and I learned to always seize opportunities coming my way. This allowed me for some Roman Holidays and Eat, Pray, Love moments during my semester abroad in Rome. Last semester also taught me to let go of the fear of change no matter how late it comes, as changing majors’ junior year doesn’t feel like a walk in the park.
Before my fellow international students who read this article accuse me of sugar-coating, I need to make a note.
Yes, I met Americans who: stereotyped me for being Eastern European, needed to google where Poland is on the map, asked “Oh, so you speak Russian in Poland?” instead of “What language do you speak there?” and even inquired whether movie theaters were in Poland. The answer? Yes, yes we do. However, to do justice to my American readers, most of the people I met in the United States showed me the level of friendliness and support I could only dream of many of them becoming my substitutes for family.
There’s my recollection of the journey from Europe to America in a little over 700 words. A journey from being always well-dressed people pleaser to finding my voice and what I want to do; complicated, messy, hard, but also wonderful and eye-opening. If I can give you any piece of advice if you feel a little lost (or if you just feel like doing it), if you get that opportunity to buy that plane ticket to a place you always wanted to move to, do it. You won’t regret it, and if you do, that’s a learning opportunity too.