I have been in the United States for exactly 962 days from 2010 up until today, or at least that is what my calculations for my taxes indicate (they ask me to put the exact number of days I have been physically in the country).
I still have 35 days before I get on a plane back to Jordan, but not as many opportunities to share what I have learned in my time here at the states as an international student.
And I learned a lot.
I learned that missing home is most intense during the first year, as I was still getting used to the new lifestyle I chose while my family was still getting used to my being here – Skype calls were most frequent then.
As the years went by, however, missing home became a less prominent emotion as I continued to busy myself with school work and activities here. It, however, maintains its constant presence as a part of me.
I learned how easy and tempting it is to seek the company of those who speak my language and are from my home country and how incredibly hard it could be to step away from that comfort zone. I found myself having to remember that I should also be with people who speak different languages and have different values and ideals than my own, because, after all, that’s why I’m here.
I learned that, despite my objections, racial jokes will probably never cease to exist and that I should take them seriously when I’m unaware of how those around me think. But I also learned to take them more easily when I’m around friends, and cross my fingers that they know better and that it doesn’t reflect what they believe and it’s, in fact, just that: a joke.
All these are lessons I struggle with internally, though. Perhaps the most noticeable skill I learned was cooking. I learned my way around the kitchen, because pizza, McDonalds and mac and cheese didn’t do it for me.
After many long Skype calls to my mother asking her about recipes and choosing to ignore the “onion and garlic” part of them, I realized that – contrary to my previous deep-rooted belief that these ingredients are Satan’s manifestation on earth – they are in fact what make every dish worth the effort and what bring my mother closer to me for the 20 minutes I spend eating it.
And most of all, I learned independence. I learned to be independent from my country, my family, my friends here in Erie and everything around me.
That may sound ominous or bad, but it really isn’t.
Part of the reason I came here was to find what I would be like away from all the influences I grew up with. And while I still hold these influences dear and close to my heart, stepping away from them for short periods of time allowed me to critique them and either condemn or cherish them. It’s a good thing.
I’m not done learning or discovering myself, though, as cheesy as that sounds. Being here was hard at times, sweet at others. And despite all the ups, downs, successes and disappointments, it was definitely worth it. I would do it again in a heartbeat.