Lost in East Lansing

A campus map hangs at Michigan State University (Creative commons photo by Flickr user druark)
A campus map hangs at Michigan State University (Creative commons photo by Flickr user druark)

As international students, when we first arrive in the U.S, we like to have a sense of the place – we want to feel home. We start by walking long distances to discover the area around us. We get lost and then suddenly, we find the way back. Our hearts are full of excitement and curiosity to explore the city and get familiar with the places. We try to create our own maps and guides, illegible to anyone but us.

Although it is my second month here in East Lansing, Michigan I still get lost frequently. Neither the actual maps, nor the maps that I have created are helping me find my destinations.

Maps are always a challenge for me, especially when I’m in a hurry! I almost never manage to end up in the right place.  On more than one occasion I’ve planned to meet a friend for coffee and ended up missing the appointment because I simply couldn’t find the place.  One time my friend gave up and left – by the time I got there she was long gone.  Another time my friend was nice enough to come back in an hour and find me, but I was getting frustrated and starting to lose hope for getting to know East Lansing.

When I look back now at the days before I came to U.S, I wish I’d thought to look at maps of the cities I would live in. I’m sure that would have been a good chance to know the area and the places of interest to me. Nowadays, I’m used to carrying the map with me everywhere, and looking at it like a tourist. Being an explorer in a new city can be fun, but not for a long time.

Editor’s Note: Our bloggers seem to have formed a consensus on the advantages of getting to know your college town in advance.  Take a look at this earlier post with advice for arriving in a new city.

CATA bus stop (Creative commons photo by Flickr user matthileo)
CATA bus stop (Creative commons photo by Flickr user matthileo)

Things started to get better when I tried to use the bus system, called CATA. There is an online trip planner, which I have found to be a great help. Yet, when your destination is anywhere other than the bus route, it means doing some more homework to make sure you get there.

Sometimes, though, the bus has its own challenges. The buses don’t operate on the same schedule during the weekends, and if you miss your bus it can mean waiting an hour or more for the next one. Recently I planned to go to the library when there was a football match on campus – I did not know that the buses have even a whole different schedule during such an event. While my friend was waiting for me in the library, I had to find my way without the bus, walking for a long distance on campus in the cold weather. On the plus side, by skipping the bus I found myself suddenly walking with all the Spartan fans on their way to the game and getting caught up in their excitement, which was amazing!