Disclaimer: This list really only applies to the United States.
1. The struggle that is, “You speak English so well.”
At first you’re like, “Um, what?” Then you realize many Americans don’t know a lot about how the rest of the world works. Granted, not every international student has a great command of the English language but I guarantee you for someone who does, it is more an insult than anything to congratulate them on speaking a language they probably grew up speaking. (Side note: For those of us who grew up learning the Queen’s version of English, we think YOUR English is barely okay, okay? Bye.)
2. The struggle that is all the stuff you will need to buy.
As I’ve written before, I hope I “make it” in the USA just so I can say, “When I moved here, I came with 2 big suitcases, a carry-on, and a dream.” Laughter aside, the amount of stuff that you have to buy all of a sudden dawns on you during the first week when your American dorm buddies are practically move their entire rooms in. And you realize, “Wow, I’m a minimalist and I didn’t even know it.” Then you spend a lot of money at Target.
3. The struggle that is stereotypes.
Way back when in my first month of college, some dude started making click sounds to me and then asked me what he said. I kid you not, this actually happened. Having lived in Southern Africa, I know what Xhosa (the “click” language) actually sounds like and I wanted to punch him in the stomach. Rest assured being an African, I have heard everything from asking if I wore clothes before coming here, to whether I hunt animals for my dinner. Eventually you just start telling people all sorts of false stories until they come to the realization you are making them look stupid.
4. The struggle that is trying to break-away from being around ONLY International Students.
This is where my heart really goes out to the international students who don’t speak English too well. It’s a tough life trying to make friends when there is a communication barrier. Moreover, while there will always be the American students who go out of their way to get to know you. (i.e. all the International Relations students), it’s mostly on you to get out of the safety of sitting in the “International Students table” during dinner time. And rest assured if it doesn’t work, you can always go back “home.” Home to the International Students table that is.
5. The struggle that is not knowing where “home” is anymore.
Now for those of us who’ve always known home as an abstract concept because of moving a lot, it’s not a big deal. But I do know many an international student who all of a sudden realized that their college campus, and/or the city they lived in was going to have to be “home” to them. And sometimes that was okay. Other times, that would just feel weird. Because you might to have to leave. And you can’t always come back (so easily). “Who says you can’t go home?” Well, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, that’s who.
6. The struggle that is listening to people talk about how far away they are from home, when they are literally 5 hours away by car.
You know who you shouldn’t tell you’re homesick to? An international student. Especially an international student that has to travel for up to two days in order to be with their family. They’ll probably casually joke with you, “Yeah, I know how you feel.” But deep inside, they are thinking “What is this person even talking about? YOU AND YOUR FAMILY ARE IN THE SAME TIME ZONE!” (Insert side-eyes)
7. The struggle that is not being in the same time zone as your loved ones.
Speaking of time zones, there is nothing quite like playing a game of international phone tag with your family and friends who live in different parts of the world. All I’ll say is your sleeping habits are never going to be the same again. And thank God for Skype and WhatsApp.
8. The struggle that is defending your culture while you’re here and defending Americans when you’re away.
There’s some sort of irony in this. When you’re here you have a lot of people say so many ignorant things to you so after a while you’re always on guard. And yes, you become a little defensive about the culture/nation you’re representing. Then when you’re abroad, when people say anything bad about Americans, you’re the first one to tell them they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. Then people tell you, you think you’ve become American. You laugh. Haters gonna hate.
9. The struggle that is CPTs, OPTs, and H1Bs a.k.a working in the USA.
This is where I give a shout-out to my Alma Mater, Drake University. There will never be another international office like yours – always helpful and always on top of your game. I’ve come to know that you are a gem among ordinary stones. Anyway, if you’re wondering what all those fancy acronyms are for my American friends, they are basically the things that need to be issued during school, and post-school, that keep you from being deported while trying to you know, work – so you don’t die or whatever. But these acronyms have also been known to cause crying, insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and ALL THE HAPPY DANCES WHEN YOU FINALLY OBTAIN THEM. Whoso findeth a company willing to sponsor your H1B, findeth a good thing.
10. The struggle that is one of your friends offering to marry you so you can get a green card.
LOL. The struggle is not that serious bro. (Well for some people it is, and I am not going to judge.)