Amherst’s community has a certain uniqueness: Though diverse, it acts as a unit. I never thought that such a community could exist because I have seen that differences usually breed conflicts. I did not write this article to praise the Admissions Office on their selections, although they are indeed worthy of it. Instead, this article is about the loneliness experienced by some international students on this campus in spite of everything, and about the unbearable pain of internal conflicts — it is about the process of adopting Amherst as a second home.
I recently watched “Why We Explore,” a video by Jason Silva. He quotes Alain de Botton, who says, “The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps more dependent on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” I immediately started reflecting on why I had come to Amherst: I wanted more — whatever that meant. I asked several international students for their opinions: “Why do you travel?” I, myself, have always thought of travelling as a quest for self-transcendence, for rebirth. Some said that they simply came “for a better education.” Others went on to romanticize their quest, describing the change they strive to create when they graduate. Many international students approach college with the intention of being diligent, courageous and determined — admirable qualities, indeed. It seems that people are excited about the thought of traveling because they see beauty in the image of who they could become. Although this is a common notion international students hold, it is not the only thing they share: They also share experiencing occasional moments of disparity at college. Amherst does a great job of integrating international students, but there is an added pressure for international students to adopt Amherst as a second home, one in which they (usually) find many differences.
For instance, I cannot begin to express how many times I have thought an Arabic saying would be apposite to a particular situation, if only everyone could understand it. There is a saying in Arabic that goes, “If your friend is honey, don’t lick all of him.” Sounds odd, does it not? Similarly, I find it sometimes difficult to understand American phrases — with so many historical references, it becomes incomprehensible to an outsider. An ocean away from my country and my family, I feel the need to belong. Understandably, coming to the States meant that I was willing to change some of my past ideologies and rituals, but it is sometimes difficult. I miss eating ta’meya and fool at 2 a.m., or sitting with my brother and his friends as we play cards and they smoke shishsa — activities that aren’t as possible here in the States (or at least would not give the same pleasure). I remember when I discovered Pita Pockets, a Middle Eastern restaurant near the famous Panda East. Talking to Youssef, the chef, was one of the greatest pleasures I had had that week. The gyro wrap seemed to refresh my memories of home, and the smell of the place made me reminisce of the air of the streets of Cairo. I am fortunate to have found these reminders of home, but others may not be.
With the cost of travelling so high, it is difficult for some international students to return home during winter break (and perhaps even summer). Spending nearly nine months on the same campus makes some exhausted and nostalgic for the home they left. No pity is due, of course: we chose to come to Amherst, for whatever reason. Nevertheless, there are moments of despair, when Skype does not make sense and searching your culture on the Internet becomes tragic. You find yourself daydreaming of enjoying your country’s weather as you relish your cultural food, envisioning all those you love and long to talk to. Suddenly, you remember the deluge of homework and projects you have to get done, and you forget home for a moment; the quest for apotheosis, for self-transcendence, pushes you through. The nostalgia subsides.
Some might feel compelled to adopt Amherst as a second home because the memory of home fades. Nevertheless, I try to remember that we all share a common culture: Amherst. For those feeling alone, know that you are (probably) not alone — many domestic and international students miss home. Do not see Amherst as a mere transitional period to your future grand life, or feel forced to accept it as a second home — enjoy this miraculous place. Do not allow your mind only to focus on the problems Amherst has, but, rather, celebrate its accomplishments; believe that differences inspire understanding. Find the reason that will make you proudly proclaim Amherst as home. Whenever I fall into anguish, I try to remember the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson:
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Every time you approach a moment that promises cultural richness, exploit it — it is the mindset with which you travel that offers pleasure. And just like Oedipus did, conclude, “All is well.”