By: John Mabilangan, Contributing Writer
Photo by John Mabilangan/ The Towerlight
Stepping into her senior year, Riya Patel, an international student coming all the way from Gujarat, India, prepares for what may come in her final year in Towson University.
Traveling to the United States was a decision of a lifetime. She has joined TU as a Business administration: Project Management and Business Analysis and Business and Economics: Business Systems and Processes double major.
“Back when I lived in Gujarat, I had a very established routine,” said Patel. “It was wake up at 5 a.m., go to karate practice at 6 a.m., have class until 1 p.m., have lunch with my mom at 2 p.m., and then go to institution from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.. Back then the day went by just like that.”
In her life in India, she describes a life not too distant from the typical American high school student. After classes she would occasionally go to cafes with friends and socialize, and then go straight to school where she would get supplementary lessons to help her with her academics and to prepare her for university entrance exams.
Though her schedule was immensely busy with socializing, keeping up with family expectations, and studying diligently for academics and exams, she was still able to maintain good marks throughout her high school career. Her ability to balance all this is thanks to the kind support from her family.
“Back then I was really optimistic,” said Patel. “My schedule was busy, but I loved my routine. My favorite part of my routine is going back home for lunch, eating home cooked meals my mom made, and telling her about everything. Because of that, my mom and I are really close, and we became best friends.”
After completing high school, Patel decided on pursuing a new experience: studying abroad. This provided her with both a brand new start and sense of independence.
“My parents were reluctant at first,” she said. “I had to convince them. I had to show to them that this was a good opportunity for my future, and it was something I really wanted. In the end, they respected my decision and supported me.”
In December 2017, Patel landed in Maryland where she would stay with a family friend before school started. In late January 2018, she participated in the International Exchange Student Orientation provided by the International Students and Scholars Office.
During orientation week and the first week of school, she was overcome with anxiety. This was her first time alone in a foreign country, with nothing closely familiar.
“I lost my appetite, I felt very lonely, and just wanted to be in my bed all day,” said Patel. “I’ve never had a day before in my life where I didn’t talk to anybody or go by the day without seeing anyone I know. And over here it was completely different. Nobody talked to me, I didn’t have any friends to talk to and my family was not there. I doubted myself with this decision I made. I even withdrew from classes and I was one step from buying a flight ticket back to India.”
Like many international students, coming to the U.S. meant starting a brand new life. Often having no connections, occasionally faced with language, cultural, and social barriers, the first steps of adapting to a new country is a challenging feat that many of the new arrivals undertake when going to school in the U.S. for the first time.
“I was ready to go home,” Patel said. “But, when my family friends convinced me that studying in the U.S, was a once in a lifetime opportunity, my motivation was ignited.”
From then on, she enrolled in her classes, diligently attended her lectures, assertively reached out to her classmates and professors, made new friends, joined clubs such as the International Students Association and ultimately expanded her network within the University.
After a semester in Towson, Patel began receiving honor roll and became extremely active on campus by taking on leadership roles such as Secretary of International Student Association. In her second year at TU, she became the Vice President of the International Student Association and South Asian Student Association.
Amina Alzin, a fourth year Towson student and member of International Student Association, is a close friend of Patel. They both share many hobbies and volunteered together in the student organization.
“Riya is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Alzin said. “She values friendship very much and tries her best to stay connected with everyone. I feel blessed to have her as my friend.”
Another student, Rachida Koudjra, a close friend and current Vice President of International Student Association, and roommate of Patel shared her thoughts.
“Riya and I met through the ISA club and since then we have been getting closer,” said Koudjra. “We are involved in a lot of things together, starting from having the same group of friends, to being in the same organization, and now we are roommates. Riya is one of the kindest and most generous people that I know; She is genuine and very simple. She is also a very strong and resilient person, who never gives up.I am grateful to have her as a friend”
Through her years at TU, Patel has established herself and her identity through her school work and her involvement in student organizations on campus. While she has adjusted to life in the U.S., she still occasionally feels homesick.
“I miss my family, I miss my mom’s home-cooked food,” said Patel. “Though I can’t eat food from home, I make the effort of calling my mom twice a week.”
Patel noted that the anxiousness and homesickness don’t affect her as much as when she first moved to the US. By establishing her network and building close friendships composed of both domestic and international students, she has become quite comfortable living in the US.
“I don’t get homesick as much anymore, now that I found a new family and a new home here,” said Patel.