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Life of an International Student

The agony of an unspoken truth



As I walked down the aisle of the plane into the San Francisco airport for the first time, it seemed as if I had teleported into a scene of an American movie. Studying most of my life with English as a medium and scoring a decent mark in my international English exam gave me initial confidence, but when I did something as simple as asking for directions to the taxi stand, it felt like I was uttering gibberish in some foreign language.


My doubts grew stronger as I sat in my first lecture. It seemed like the professor was doing the same thing I did at the airport—speaking gibberish. With great attempts at lip-reading and avoiding mispronunciation (in other words, the way I’d been speaking for the last 20 years), I tried not to be a laughing stock. Most importantly, my daily dose of motivational quotes on social media is what helped me get through each day.


That is, until I started experiencing the “imposter syndrome”. I began doubting all the knowledge and experience I had gained throughout my years of education and work. Suddenly it all seemed so meaningless. Some days I spent dreading that someone would ask me a question about a basic subject I had probably covered in my previous studies, but which I had shamefully forgotten. Will they pounce on me, calling me “stupid”, or label my entire life’s achievements as unworthy? I had come here to compete in the most hyper-competitive job market in the world, but I seemed to lose myself in my own past as well as the present.


When I left my home to come to the mighty Silicon Valley, people seemed to draw an unrealistic picture of my life as turning into a secure haven instantaneously. “Of course, she’s going to buy a fancy car or have a cute boyfriend”, but they fail to see that my life in America starts with LinkedIn and ends with right and left swipes on Tinder. I too had drawn an ideal picture for my future, where I left my safety net to pursue the American Dream. Everyone has their own version of it. Mine was to get an equal opportunity at a chance for a better life based on my capabilities and hard work.


I know I will have to pay a price just to get in line for the Dream, and it will not only be monetary, but also social and psychological. But lately I find myself questioning the value of my pursuit. The current administration has made my dream feel even more out of reach. It feels like what was once an official welcome mat has been pulled out from under me. My internal battle of choosing whether I want to stay and fight or find a different dream is making me feel lost. And without my goal, what is my purpose?


This is when I start looking around for moral support. Maybe a few words of encouragement from TED Talks or alumni stalking to lift my spirit. Soon the time is going to come when I must dust off my dormant LinkedIn account. I think it helps to ask, why would anyone hire us? What are our unique selling points? Maybe our MBA degree is just the initial investment which alone is not enough, and other factors like extra courses and involvement in extracurricular activities is needed to add weight to our resumes. Any advice?


Stay tuned for more reflections on the Life of an International Student.


Priyanka Thapa

Graduate Student, Lincoln University

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