LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Adjusting to the American university environment

Hsia Hwa

When I decided to skip Form Six in Malaysia for college in the USA, the two obvious possibilities were either of my parents’ alma maters. Not very meticulous about researching colleges, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Lawrence, having only vague memories of the campus.Before leaving home, I got plenty of advice from relatives and friends. “Get a job in the cafeteria. You’ll get free meals.” True enough. “Plantz is on College Avenue-convenient if you want to catch a ride into town.” Like it would have killed me to walk a little further if I’d been placed in another dorm. “Buy a down winter coat.” I did during orientation-and it’s been sitting in my wardrobe since.

Orientation for the international freshmen gave us a few extra days to learn our way around, and created some instant friendships among our eager yet sometimes nervous group. Unexpectedly, a notable number of the international female freshmen had been assigned rooms together, instead of with American roommates. We assumed this was done to lessen culture shock, but I don’t advocate it for next year. Thanks to the global reach of American media, we’re more prepared than some may think.

Having lived in America before, it was the university environment rather than the culture that I had to get used to. Even before arriving, I knew that a person who was antisocial, bad at time management, and who sailed through school without studying would have to work hard to adjust. Stacks of brochures from the university conveyed an overwhelming impression of hundreds of courses and dozens of student organizations. Frankly, the idea of being in college scared me.

Since last fall, it’s not so much my mental image of Lawrence that has changed than the way I feel about it. I have a better idea of what life here is like, of the many overlapping groups and communities that make up the student body here. Though I’m still somewhat “on the fringe,” I’m not an outsider any more. This is home-for the next few years.