“How do you like it so far?” is the first question I get asked after people find out I am an exchange student. When they ask me that, I cannot think of anything to say but “Yes, it is really good to be here!” However, the real answer is not so short. I ask myself this same question too. What is it that makes the U.S. so fascinating for me?
Growing up in another country, you build an image in your head about what life in the U.S. would be like from all the music and TV you get exposed to. That image is usually full of false assumptions and exaggerations. Before coming here, I was aware that it wouldn’t be anything like that. The public had such a distorted view of the U.S., and I didn’t have that. But still, I knew, whatever my expectations were, they would prove to be wrong. And life here was very really different. What surprised me the most was the impact of people.
The city I am from was founded in 657 BCE. Back home, I go to sleep and wake up on 2678 years of history. It has been a capital for 1691 years straight. All of that really shows around you. Walking the streets, you feel the generations that lived there before. Their lives still impact daily life, through shops, buildings and through descendants. The city really has a soul, you could say.
I didn’t expect to find that in the U.S. Even New York is only about 400 years old and has no direct traditional inheritance from its previous occupiers. But I found a lot of soul here, thanks to the people who inhabit it. The people infuse this country with soul. Everyone who somehow ended up here, they get together and add some of themselves into the patchwork of this country.
The songs, the buildings and the shops may be younger than those in my country, but the people who sing them have been singing them in the same spirit way before they came here; more come here every day, and they are fascinated like me when they see for the first time, the whole world coming together in one small city, on one big country.
My first week here, I was brought to New York, and in a day, I went first through Koreatown, then through Little Italy and then made my way through Chinatown to end up in Brooklyn. That on its own was enough for me to be star struck with this country.
The only thing I would recommend to other students growing up and living here is to travel outside of their comfort zones. I truly believe that the only reason I was able to appreciate individual beauty was because I grew up curious about other people and diversity.
You must see that what makes this place so unique and so beautiful is the people and the diversity of people. It is a newfound joy to be able to see so many different lives coexisting together and becoming one. And one must go out of their way to seek out and witness it for their own.