At home in Istanbul.
Hello, Merhaba, שלום, Bonjour, Hola, 안녕하세요, Hallo, مرحبا, Hej, Olá, 您好, नमस्कार, привет, Salut, こんにちは, კომენტარი, สวัสดี, Kumusta, Halo juga, Moni, Pẹlẹ o, сәлеметсізбе, ہیلو, नमस्ते , ஹலோ.
(I think I have managed to say hello in almost all of the native languages of international students currently studying at Barnard.)
Imagine yourself in a circle of students sitting on Lehman Lawn introducing themselves during orientation week. The reactions to an international student’s introduction tend to include the phrases “Wow,” “That’s so cool,” and “Awesome.” Being an international student is cool here. Trust me, I experienced this during the first week of my life at Barnard. I am an international student.
Having spent nearly two years here, I am so glad to be part of this amazing Barnard community, which I now call my family in the U.S.
Chocolate from my family’s store.
Long before my journey to Barnard, I grew up in the Mediterranean region of Turkey in a home that constantly smelled of chocolate. My family owned a chocolate and Turkish delight store. I used to help them out during holidays and learned the secrets of creating the most delicious Turkish delight of all different flavors.
During my middle school years, studying at a boarding school in England was my biggest dream (thanks to J.K. Rowling and her inspiring Harry Potter series). I applied and after taking the entrance exams/interviews was admitted to a prestigious British boarding school in England. And there began my first experience as an international student. I adored my school and its bucolic atmosphere. I lived a fairy tale life there.
However, at the end of my junior year (Lower Sixth) I decided not to study at a British university, since I was undecided about what my major was going to be. In the European system, students must know what they are going to study at university even before the application process starts. The United States was my only choice. I knew that I wanted to be in a small liberal arts college where I could explore many subjects and get individual attention from my professors. But I also wanted to be in New York City. So Barnard was the perfect match.
At my British boarding school, covered in snow.
I vividly remember the moment when I learned that I had gotten into Barnard. I was in England. It was late April, I was sad, and I really had no motivation to study for my A Level Organic Chemistry module. Barnard was the only place I wanted to be for college, but I had been waitlisted. I did everything that I could to get in and the only thing left to do was wait. It was sometime at night; I was in my little dorm room, staring out the window watching the rain, thinking about my uncertain future. Then my phone rang and the number began with +1. It was from Barnard Admissions. I pressed the green button with excitement and fear. The admissions officer told me I had been admitted to Barnard.
I spent the summer preparing my F1 visa application and I-20 form and getting ready for my new life as a student across the Atlantic. As an international student, I had more forms to complete than an American student, but the Barnard Office of International Student Programs was amazingly helpful and prompt.
Now that the class of 2019 has been admitted, I want to share some advice to all of our newest international students about how to make the most of life here:
This photo was taken on my very first day at Barnard.
1. Get to know all the international students at Barnard during International Student Orientation. It’s really a great way to meet all of the international students in your year at a single event. About a year after I enrolled at Barnard, I was browsing the website and noticed that Barnard had posted two of my photos from orientation!
2. Know that culture shock is inevitable! I have to admit that after a traditional British boarding school experience, living in America was quite a shock for me. I had been living in the middle of nowhere and studying at a school which used to be a Ducal Palace, the perfect setting for a Jane Austen movie. Then, I magically found myself in the middle of everywhere with all these skyscrapers. It really felt like I had gone through a time tunnel. I also find it an entertaining experience; it’s good to handle the transition with a little bit of fun. When I used words that were only used in British English, the expressions on people’s faces were priceless.
Hanging out with my sister in the Quad on my first day.
3. Take advantage of the events that Barnard organizes during short holidays. If your home, like mine, is far away from the U.S., you will usually end up staying here in NYC during short holidays like Thanksgiving. Barnard makes life a lot easier during these holidays, especially if you have no close relatives or friends living in New York or in the U.S. Just before my first Thanksgiving break, I received a surprising email from Barnard Alumni relations. It was titled “Thanksgiving with Alumnae.” I immediately signed up for the program and a week later was matched with an alumna who is a successful writer and producer living on the Upper West side. My first Thanksgiving was an incredible experience and I am still in touch with my host.
4. When the classes start, don’t be afraid to engage in discussion. At first, I had some difficulty speaking up in my first-year English seminar due to the differences between the European and American classroom environment. European students are more quiet in class compared to American (and especially Barnard) students, who love participating and making their voices heard. But after a couple of weeks, I got into the mood as most of my other fellow international friends did, and started to participate more. My professors have also been really helpful — I even remember having coffee with my first-year English Professor at Liz’s Place and discussing my essay on The Odyssey! You really don’t get to do this at many universities.
5. Try not to stress about anything. You will be achieving so much already! Surviving in a big city in a different country and succeeding in a competitive college where the language of instruction may not be your first are great achievements for an 18-year-old. So whenever you feel you are not doing as well as you would expect, please remember how much you have already done. Furthermore, Barnard truly is a supportive community: deans, professors, staff are always there to help you. All you need to do is to ask.
I will be posting many more experiences in upcoming posts. In the meantime, PLEASE don’t hesitate to ask questions. Feel free to email me at email@example.com or leave a comment below.
And congratulations to Class of 2019! A new chapter is yet to begin — get excited!
To be continued…
Sena Oztosun ’17