I wasn't warned about this when I left home for the US.
Being an international student in the US is an enriching experience for the most part. But how you experience your time there and what kind of challenges you face depends on a few factors. The area of the US you go to, the international students at your uni, why you left your home country, etc. In this post, I do not speak for everyone. I just represent people who came for the same reasons I did. I have now lived in the US for over 250+ days, and this one challenge hit me like a truck.
Cultural Identity Confusion.
The top non-academic reason I wanted to study abroad was culture. There were many aspects of the ground culture in India, specifically in the cities where I have lived, that suffocated me. IYKYK. An example would be the relatively more freedom in being your authentic self, for instance, in gender and sexual orientation.
After I came here, and the initial honeymoon phase was over, this happened. On one end, you are trying to hold on to everything you have been for over 20 years. Trying to clutch onto whatever little Asian/India/Malayalee-ness you have within you, to find some comfort and familiarity. You also notice holes in the new culture you are immersed in, and suddenly you appreciate elements from your home culture more.
On the other end are the cultural reasons why you left the country. You also learn that some things you learned and lived as - in the way you see and view people and things, though culturally accepted where you are from, are just wrong in a new perspective. You see the why, and your new version agrees.
So how do I decide what to keep, what to adopt, and what to throw away? How do you choose? It connected to more bottomless questions I have been asking myself, like Who am I and What do I represent? What kind of life do I want to build as I walk into my mid-twenties? What are the social guidelines, and culture that I live by?
It took me a while and sent me to a dreary swirl. But I recently took a week-long break, and in that more relaxed state, I realized the solution was more straightforward than I thought.
I don't have to pick one over the other in the first place. Navigating between cultures is challenging. But the good news is you don't HAVE to pick and choose. Life is a choose your own adventure.
You don't have to confine yourself to any of society's boxes. You don't have to fit into the American-Malayalee stereotype. It's like gender. While there are very popular gender classes/boxes out there, gender can be fluid. Similarly, culture can be too. I can choose to adapt and build a way of life that best fits my priorities and ethics. It doesn't have to be set in stone; it can grow into whatever it wants to be as I navigate through life.
It's my life, after all.
If you are an international student in a similar pickle, I hope this post gave you some comfort and ideas.