Being raised with Eastern roots, I have gotten used to a lot of things growing up. I can’t eat a full meal without rice, I can’t sleep without a bolster pillow, and I can’t imagine living without my parents. Even at the age of 21, when “leaving the nest” is normal in some cultures, in the East we still live with our families. Living under one roof is practically mandatory, even after you’ve become legal or started your career, that is until you get married.
I first came to the U.S. at the age of 5 with my mother, who was pursuing a graduate degree, and then moved back to Indonesia after she graduated. Though we lived in Indonesia for about 10 years, I experienced culture shock in my own country and longed to come back to the U.S. to pursue my education. Don’t get me wrong, I love Indonesia, but I sometimes felt out of place in my native land. I started composing a plan to move back to the U.S., beginning with majoring in English literature at the University of Indonesia. Out of the blue, my mother got a job posting in Washington, D.C. and I happily moved with my whole family to start my college education from scratch in the U.S.
But there was a catch. My mother’s work post was only for 2 years and that meant I had to stay behind to finish my Bachelor’s degree … without my family. I had never lived alone!
But in my two years living in D.C., I have learned that there are ways to survive living out of your comfort zone, and have become prepared to cope with the reality of living away from my family. I have found that being away from my home doesn’t have to mean being alone.
Staying in touch with family is easy
When I first moved to D.C. I experienced no human contact other than my family whatsoever. It was hard adjusting to the new weather and the new circumstances. But I quickly found that in this day and age we have technology at our fingertips, and distance means so little.
I Skyped with my friends and family back home often, and it made my first few months better knowing that they were still there for me with endless support and encouragement. I was motivated to make them proud, and I was always reminded not to waste this opportunity when I have left so much back home.
Between taking 6 classes each semester, plus having internships, activities and part-time jobs on the side, not to mention the fact that Indonesia has a 12-hour time difference with the U.S., it wasn’t always easy to find time to call home. So I scheduled a routine call once every month to catch up and share my new experiences with my friends and family.
You can build a new support system
I have also found it very helpful to get involved with the Indonesian community where I am, creating my own sense of home in the States. I made friendships with peers who had similar situations, and we became each other’s support system.
Thankfully, when I started attending Montgomery College, I found there were a lot of other Indonesian students there. We started a chapter of PERMIAS, an organization for Indonesian students in the U.S., and I was appointed to become Project Manager for PERMIAS’s first annual Fall Festival. At first I was very confused why they picked me for this position, because I didn’t know anybody yet and I had no connections to take care of things like booking a band. But as the planning went by, the others who had been here longer helped introduce me to more people, and my community grew.
Through participating in events together and facing adversity together, our relationships became stronger than normal friendships; we are practically like family.
And don’t forget why you’re here
No matter how much you work at feeling at home in your new environment, there will always be times when you feel lonely or homesick. But STAY MOTIVATED! You are here for a reason, and remembering that will help keep your motivation up.
I took a class on intercultural communication, and one of the things we learned is that everyone has difficulties adjusting when they’re in a new culture, but those who keep a positive attitude adjust more quickly. When I first got to D.C. in December 2010, I was depressed by the weather, as it was one of the fiercest winters to my knowledge, and pessimistic that I would ever have any friends. But as I made one friend and then another, I became more positive, and started to meet more people and do better in my studies.
And making it through this challenge has helped me develop an independence I never expected to possess at this early age. I have learned to manage my time and my money, planned my own class schedule, found my first job, and become comfortable adapting to new circumstances. Although I know I still have family to rely on, both at home and in my new community here, I have become the creator of my own destiny.