This post is a part of our International Voices column, written by international UT students & staff, for UT students & staff.
I am far from being an example on how to adapt to the U.S. context. As a Costa Rican, I happen to be in that awkward middle between being heavily influenced by American culture but at the same time not being formally part of it. Still, after many trials I have found a few ways to make the most out of this wonderful place, and not suffer too much on those days when I deeply miss home, my family, friends, and of course my two beautiful dogs. Here are six ideas that have been effective for me, hopefully they will work for you too.
Try out new things
Get out of your comfort zone! Austin, and the U.S. in general, are all about taking risks and successfully adapting to new circumstances. There is no use in staying within the borders of the familiar! Go to that place you would have never gone to, try that new sport, talk to that person, take that walk by yourself, learn to play that instrument, or join that improv club. What do you have to lose? Few people know you here, so the risk of embarrassment is as low as it gets. You will most likely end up enjoying it a lot and confirming none of your fears had any foundation. As a ‘meditator’, I found myself begrudgingly joining a Zen center near my apartment, and ended up meeting so many thoughtful people who share my passion for meditation. Trust me, you will feel very comfortable around new and kind folks who share your interests.
You will not be hungry in Austin as there is no dearth of food options, and you should try them all! Don’t hesitate to take a stab at those breakfast tacos — their difference with breakfast burritos will be for you to find. Be not discouraged by the long lines at the famous BBQ joints in the city, just bring that reading you have due for Monday. Prioritize the types of food you’ve never had before, and get the strangest plate you find on the menu. If you don’t know what it is, the better! You will not regret it – although you might wish you didn’t have that extra side when you’re in the gym the next morning.
Let’s start with a simple assumption: the weather in Austin makes no sense. No sense at all! Even if you see the bright sun and the birds singing around you in a beautiful spring morning, bring a sweater with you! More than a few times you will be caught in the losing side of weather speculation, and better prepare for it rather than sneezing your way through exam week.
Call call call, use your phone!
At some point, you will find out it is very common to be consumed by your local chores. The exams, papers, presentations, and activities might make you neglect some of your relationships from back home. To avoid that, use your phone! Use Whatsapp, Skype, Facetime, or whatever is your app of choice. When you have to walk across campus on that sad and rainy morning, try giving a call to one of your friends or family members that you haven’t quite caught up with since you left. There are few things that will bump up your mood more than reconnecting with all the people back home who love you, care about you, and hope the best in your adventures. Also, it will not only brighten your day but theirs, when they get that international call they were not expecting. Believe me, it’s gonna be huuuuuuuge!
Ask for help!
I know what it feels like: I want to solve everything myself and prove that I need no one. I can beat that problem set or get that A+ in the exam without anyone’s help. I can find that street without using Google Maps. Yes, sure, you are amazing and independent, but do not hesitate to ask for help even if it is just to confirm what you already know! Go to office hours, ask the person sitting next to you in class, ask for directions, take advantage of the university’s medical and counseling services, go to your adviser, talk to your professor, send that email, reach out to that person of interest. Ask even if it’s just for the sake of asking! You will find out how much easier life becomes when you lighten the burden you have to carry. You are already a bad ass by being here by yourself, away from home, and rocking the free world. Don’t waste your emotional stamina by trying to solve every problem on your own. Share the weight.
Finally, no matter what you do, you will inevitably find yourself bummed every once in a while. It just happens as part of the process of adapting to a new environment. When those feelings being to arise, practice gratitude! Remember how amazing it is to be here, the work it took you to get here, the infinite amount of opportunities that you have right now, and the bright future that lies ahead. Even when things are not going as you wished they would, be grateful. Be grateful for the boring cereal you had in the morning, the tediousness of doing laundry, or the dull lecture you’re about to attend. You will be surprised as to how much your view of menial tasks change when you are appreciative of them.
Remember, you should not be grateful only after you’re happy, but you become happy because you are grateful. Gratitude is probably the most important skill towards well being, so try to dedicate at least five minutes every day to practice it – after a few weeks, let me know how it goes!
Let me know how these tips go, or share if you have any cool ideas that have worked for you. I would definitely like to hear them.
Reach out! I am always available at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/alf10087