3 Lessons I Learned Spending 6 Years in the US by Esther Lin

by Interaction Design April 1, 2022

My Journey: I was born and raised in Shenzhen, China. In August 2016, I came to the US with my large and heavy luggage, moved into the dorm, and started my 4-year-college journey. In 2020, I graduated from the University of Washington, worked in a startup for a year, and I’m now pursuing an MFA in Interaction Design at the School of Visual Arts.

Photo of blooming cherry blossom tree against a blue sky background with clouds. Photo of blooming cherry blossom tree against a blue sky background with clouds.

UW Cherry Blossom

What Inspired Me to Share: People always say “time flies.” When I experienced it myself, I became a believer. I met many new international students this year since grad school started, and they inspired me to write about the 3 lessons I learned after spending 6 years in the US. I hope this article can help you in any way.

Lesson 1: Diversify Your Friend Group

Friends are the only connections I have here because my family is all back in China. It’s very natural for international students to hang out with other international students because of their shared values, backgrounds, and culture. While finding your comfort zone is a good thing, it’s also important to diversify your friend group because that’s the value of you coming all the way to the US. But why? And how?

  • Expand your perspectives: You will learn how other people from different backgrounds view things differently. When you experienced, “Wow, I have never thought of this before.” That’s the moment you start to recognize your own biases and stereotypes. Breaking away from your comfort will make you stand out from your peers and expand your perspectives and network.
  • Choose friends who are willing to accept your uniqueness and background: During my 6 years in the US, I have met with many international students who were not confident with their English-speaking abilities. One thing I believe was a setback for many of us non-native English speakers was being afraid of not understanding certain words or keeping the conversation going. I often stayed quiet because I didn’t want to reveal to others that my English was poor. I later realized that “friendship is a two-way street,” involving mutual respect and give and take. Don’t put yourself in an environment where you feel unsafe to ask questions or hesitate to say, “excuse me, can you say that again.” Choose to hang out with people who are willing to be patient, answer all of your questions, correct your pronunciation, and include you in the conversations.

Lesson 2: Stay Curious, Be Ready to Get-Up-and-Go

Let your curiosity lead the way. If you are curious about how American people celebrate their Thanksgiving, ask one of your friends to see if you can join them for their celebrations. If you have never tried Indian or Mexican food before, find a local restaurant, ask for a recommendation, and try it. Over the years, I have tried cuisines that I didn’t grow up with and learned snowboarding, kayaking, and bouldering. While going on these adventures, you might find your new favorite food or activity. I promise this will enrich your experiences here and lead you to meet more interesting people.

Photo of a campsite in the woods featuring a green tent and picnic table. Photo of a campsite in the woods featuring a green tent and picnic table.

My First Time Camping

Lesson 3: Get to Know Yourself and Walk Your Own Path

The past 6 years were incredible because I got to know myself more. Through talking to different people, exploring various industries, and moving to different places, I started to have goals for the future and preferences for things. It became clear that I wanted to have my unique way of living. This might be apparent for some of you, but I came from a very conservative family. Seeing all of my cousins are living the same lifestyle, I got scared. It’s important to walk your own path and live your life in your way because YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE.

Thank you for reading through this article! You are not alone when you experienced these difficulties when you first came to this country. Push yourself to do more than you did yesterday, and I believe you will achieve more!