By Nargiz Abadzada.
Despite the fact that it has only been three months since I left my home in Qakh, Azerbaijan, I feel like it was yesterday when I was thinking about what college life would be like for me as an international student in the United States. Those days were full of questions about what awaits me in my student life. When I first arrived on campus, everything seemed very different from what I experienced in Azerbaijan-the city, the climate, people, food and just everything. I expected everything to be like I saw in the media and movies, but it was much more different. For instance, let’s take the climate. Not experiencing very cold winters before, I was thrilled for the cooler days, but extreme heat, experienced a few days earlier, dried the excitement out of me.
I liked the campus of Drew University a lot, as it is amazing and very beautiful , it makes me feel like I live and study in the forest. This environment is much more comfortable than living in the bustle of big cities. Despite the fact that there are not many students on campus nowadays due to Covid 19, it still remains lively throughout the week with various events and activities which are very interesting and to which I always look forward to. One of my favorite memories was when I played a bingo game during the January Orientation with my friends and a lot of new students and had a lot of fun, it was fantastic! Despite that Spring Orientation was slightly overwhelming, but a warm welcome from different students and staff made me comfortable and feel like I am at home. In fact, since then, I have considered the people I met at Drew my family.
Like many other international students, when I first arrived I expected to find someone from my home country to make friends with and explore things together but I soon realized that everyone was fun in his/her own way and it doesn’t depend from which country a certain person/student is. I am very happy to be a part of Drew Community and such a diverse environment. Since I live on campus, my friends and I have done many activities together: participating in various interesting events, working long hours for projects and finals, shopping, dining and so on. In my opinion, one of the most interesting experiences was and still is exploring various cultures.
Yes, it is beautiful, fun and amazing. However, there are also some challenges, that if embraced with an open learning mind, they become great experiential learning moments. For instance, since I started my journey as an international student at Drew University, I discovered that teaching methods and schemes here are very different compared to those, which I learned and was taught at home. For example, the class sizes in colleges in Azerbaijan were mostly big but here they are small which, I think, is better as it gives students an opportunity to talk to professors one-on-one and ask questions whenever they want. So, even such a small thing as class size makes it easier and gives more opportunity for students to study better and in a more effective way. I also definitely like all the academic staff at Drew University, my academic coach/instructor and professors who are always willing to help, give advice and show the right way. All these different ‘elements’ contribute to and encourage my learning in various ways. I have come to realize that, although sometimes I prefer being silent, this is not the case in my classes. It is true that, being in a small class I can not stay quiet and not contribute to discussion as my grade depends on it and it is always very interesting to engage in discussions with the professor, classmates and show my own points of view, sometimes I am asked about my perspective connected to my background, culture, or a country and as most of my classmates are from different backgrounds and cultures, it is always interesting to exchange our points of view. It was difficult to get used to this system in the beginning but there were always people willing to help. Studying here has taught me new design and teaching techniques which is giving me the opportunity to become a better, well-informed student. I especially liked and enjoyed various career workshops, conferences, and other events that help to introduce students to professionals in their field. Although these experiences were a bit challenging in the beginning, they helped me step out of my comfort zone and develop an enthusiasm for personal and professional improvement.
My experience here not only expanded my outlook but also helped me to become better and progress towards my goals. Like any other international student, I arrived in the USA with a lot of expectations and hopes and for now I have learned that while all of these expectations don’t come true, some of them do, and you just need to be coherent and patient for that to happen.