Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 21, 2021

Staying true to myself in eight semesters abroad

By SANIYA RAMCHANDANI | January 30, 2020


Sometimes it’s as simple as wishing that a pair of shoes that are currently sitting in my closet in Singapore were with me in Baltimore, and sometimes it’s wishing my mom could drive to me in three hours when I’m having a crappy mental day instead of having to travel upwards of 20 hours in cars, planes and trains to get to me.

Living half of your life in one country and the other half in another can be the most confusing, frustrating and alienating thing. Friends from high school aren’t people I get to see over Thanksgiving, and I can’t just load up a car full of my stuff when moving in and out of my dorm room or apartment. 

Coming to Hopkins was moving out of my house at 18, learning to be a completely independent adult and feeling completely alone in it all. Well for the most part.

It hits me almost every day that my safety blanket is no longer people who have watched me grow up and taken care of me my whole life.

Instead, my support system is made up of people I met two years ago, people I have no choice but to trust, and people with whom I have developed extremely quick and deep friendships, as harsh as that might sound. I love my friends here and my boyfriend deeply. They have become my second family, but without my first around, it’s just not the same.

This is only made worse by the extreme culture shock of moving from the East to the West. It’s hard to distinguish real from fake because mannerisms and habits in relationships are so unbelievably different. 

I am used to people dropping everything to be there for you, no matter how small your problem may be; people who, although they might have fought with you yesterday, will spend hours editing essays or quizzing you before a midterm, despite the fact that they might have mounds of work of their own.

I’ve stressed myself out on more than one occasion because I put someone else’s needs before mine. And it’s often not reciprocated. But really, how could I expect it to be?

I understand that I’m the one that needs to adjust. I realize that I am the one who moved halfway across the world to a place where relationships are developed at a different pace and in a different way.

I understand that, but that doesn’t make it easy. I am used to inducting people into my family; my best friends are sometimes more in touch with my parents than I am, and my grandmother knits socks for my roommate. 

Our place at home has always been a place for people to come over without invitation, and I’m used to being a hostess and taking care of people, because at home, that is how everyone is.

So, coming to college, I opted to host birthdays and dinners assuming it would be the same — that people would reciprocate — as I am used to, but I realize that I have now fallen into the trap of being the assumed host. 

I actively let people walk all over me and then buy them Christmas gifts, without expecting (or receiving, I might add) so much as a thank you in return.

The absolute worst part about all of this — feeling like I don’t belong, feeling underappreciated and feeling like I put in more than I get back — is that people still have the audacity to assume that my life is perfect and then mock me for it. “Get over it. Just cry into your million-dollar scarf,” “You can’t say you’re worried about the future; you have it so easy,” “I’m pretty sure she buys her grades” and “Don’t talk to me about problems, you don’t have real problems” are all things that have been said to me and about me, in front of me.

Everyone has issues. Everyone goes through things. And what might seem insignificant to one person could be a huge weight on someone else; so much of how things affect each of us depends on our context and background.

So who are any of us to decide what makes life easy for someone else? There are answers I can retort to each of those comments, but I don’t feel the need to justify myself or the way I live my life to anyone. I just feel hurt. 

And whilst these are more obvious statements, every single thing I do or accomplish, even something so small as winning a shuffleboard game, is minimized. 

Past high school, I can’t think of a single time I have ever received full credit for anything that I have ever done.

To summarize, since the day I arrived on campus, I haven’t been myself. I have toned down my London Tipton, tried to be more Rachel Green and spoken like Lorelai Gilmore. This combination of fictional characters has blended into my personality to create a person who I thought would “fit in” more, and very few people have seen who I really am.

Every time I’ve tried to be a little more true to myself, I’ve been ridiculed, judged and hurt. But I’m taking baby steps to be more confident in who I am and accepting that the people who love and care about me will have my back when I need them, instead of laughing along.

The last thing I’m trying to do is make anyone feel bad for me; I know I’m unbelievably lucky, and every day I am grateful for every aspect of the life that I have. 

All I ask is that if you hear a tinge of my “weird, mixed” accent creep back out, don’t make fun of me.

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