Some First Hand Thoughts From A First Time Visitor

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

In one of her last posts before she left, Jessica shared the story of Cai Xiao, a Chinese student who wanted to attend graduate school in the U.S., but had no idea what the country was like.

To help answer that, this summer she visited the U.S.  Now, she knew that it's not possible to get to know any large nation in just a short trip, but she recalls one specific experience that helped to put things into perspective.

Quoting from Cai Xiao's essay here:
"One such story that I personally experienced: While in New York, after finishing dinner, we walked the streets and enjoyed the vista. Suddenly, a homeless person sitting in the side of the parterre caught my line of sight--I noticed his clothes were old but clean and tidy. He hummed a cheerful tune and bathed himself in the sunlight. Sometimes passersby would put some money in this man?s cup, they would bless each other with a sunny smile. Sometimes people stopped and talked friendly to the man. Then he tilted his head wittily and chatted up with people, everyone would start laughing as they were old friends before.

"This scene completely shocked me, for I have never seen a homeless person like him before. What I have seen were only those hobos who try to show their sadness, disability, or foul to common people in a pretty regrettably way. As a matter of fact, it was the first time that I found such a happy and confident mood from this type of person.

"The thing that touched me most is the interaction amongst the man and passersby. In my country, people generally just feel pity or even detest these people. Although people will always lend a helping hand, the beggars and people who are being begged are consciously divided into two totally unrelated groups. Beggars are almost squeezed out of the margins of society, not to be spoken to on friendly terms like this. There is nearly no interflow between the parties.

"Not only did I witness this harmonious picture on the streets of America, it also let me feel deeply imprinted in American society and culture, with the spirit of equality. Suddenly, those distant and vague concepts in the books became clear and transparent, inlayed right in front of my eyes."

Cai Xiao's story brought to mind just how many questions and concerns foreign students must have on studying in the U.S., or any other nation for that matter. Would I like it? Would it be exciting, or scary, or both? Could I fit in, and would I even want to?

I admit I never studied abroad despite my college - Michigan State University - having one of the most extensive international studies programs to be found (Go State!) But after graduating, I took a risk and got an international work visa that allowed me to travel and work in Europe, even though I had never been abroad in my life.

It's such an amazing experience to be dropped in the middle of a country you don't know and try to figure it out - amazing, and often daunting. I may not have been an international student, but I think I understand  many of the challenges and opportunities that such an experience must present. Which makes me even more impressed with you all than before.

That's why I can't wait to start hearing all your stories in the coming year at the Student Union! If you'd like to join our writing team, email me today with just a few details about who you are and where you're studying, and the sorts of stories you're interested in hearing.

Incidentally, I'm told that Cai Xiao is now applying to graduate schools in the U.S. and very much hoping to begin her studies here soon!

Does the idea of studying in another country excite you, make you nervous or a little of both? Use the comments or the form below to share!