Being a resident alien isn’t easy at first, but it gets better

Sonali Kudva

I find the term “resident alien” somewhat amusing. It appears to me that I should be a little green person who gets off the ship and lives among humans for the first time. Then again, that’s probably a euphemism for real life. You see, I am a resident alien in the U.S.

When an international student gets off the flight for the very first time and lands in America, it is a bewildering world.

That’s how it was to me. The money was strange, the menu in the fast food restaurant was strange, the way things work – right down to the trolley in the airport – it was all strange. Standing in line waiting for the immigration officer to review your papers, you know you’re a long way from home. The person checking your papers peers at you suspiciously as if expecting you to blow yourself up.

I stood in front of the menu at Subway one day soon after I came to America. While in line, I couldn’t believe the amount of choices I had to make. Why wasn’t it simple? What were all these strange things? Six kinds of bread; ten different combinations of meat. What kind of vegetables? What kind of dressing? Did I want sauce? It sure annoyed some people in line behind me as it took me time to make these tough choices to get one meal.

But no one said a word to me about it. I felt strangely apologetic, but while people may have been annoyed, I didn’t hear a single word to me on the subject. And with that, I became a little more confident. I took my time if I needed to, and life became a little easier with every passing week.

The first time an important holiday or festival rolled around was the hardest to get through. Home called to me across the seven seas, and I wondered why I left. I knew I had friends in this land, but they had families. This was home to them. I missed those I had left behind. But slowly, I made my own traditions in a strange land. I made friends who make up my extended family here, I reached out and some people took my hand. Others didn’t, but that was OK, too. I didn’t want favors – I wanted people who actually cared.

Being an international student is not easy, but it sure becomes easier as time passes.

If you’re an international student, do write in if you have any stories to share.

Sonali Kudva is a graduate journalism student. Contact her at [email protected].