Column: Reflection on coming to America: part two

Kehinde Abiodun, Staff Reporter

I must mention that the Charleston community was welcoming to international students. On the first day of orientation at Eastern, Salisbury, a church Madison avenue, hosted new students to an assortment of American dishes in its palatial space.

The following day, the Newman Center repeated the same gesture, this time, with a sale of household appliances and other odds and ends at very affordable prices. Some Charleston residents also volunteered time to help students settle and gave useful information on finding accommodation.

But once settled, there were few distractions or side attractions away from school life. A fellow student from India kept asking me “what do students here do for fun?” I had no answer for him. Thankfully, as the days went by I made a few friends and played soccer and ping pong a few times. I also came to enjoy the game of pool. But mostly, I kept to quiet rhythms.

The Office of International Students and Scholars also had a Family and Friends Program which matched interested international students with local couples. I was paired with Jim and Rayma Laughlin, a couple in their sixties who had been married for 45 years. I meet Jim and Rayma in February 2016 in their house on Fairfield Lane.

There is something exotic about meeting people from other countries or cultures. Jim and Rayma had a genuine interest in people from other places. We had long conversations over lunch or sometimes dinner at their house and elsewhere.

One sunny afternoon, we went to a baseball game featuring their grandson, a spry little boy called Henry, at Lincoln Park. It was my first game. I knew little about the rules, being more of a soccer fan.

The crowd at the game was giddy with excitement. There were lots of cheering, catcalling and running around. At the end of the game, I was more confused about the rules.  Jim gave a me a book about baseball history and rules. That is the kind of guy he is.

Spring semester appeared to be a long haul. I had three classes, all with American professors. The thing I liked about these folks was their liberal streak. You could argue, disagree or even tell a professor that he sucks (perhaps I exaggerated on that one), which I would never try that back home.

Of course, in the first few weeks I had some difficulty following one of my professors. I am sure he must have had a hard time understanding some of my questions, too. But as the semester rolled on, we found a way of understanding each others’ twangs.

Sometime in the middle of the semester, I ran into a fellow, Mike, in one of the study rooms in the library. He was clutching a bible in his left hand. He had recently graduated and was involved in some sort of campus ministry. As soon as I spoke, he recognized my accent as foreign. He engaged me further.

He was in the mood for conversation, but I wanted to get out of the place. We ended up talking for about 20 minutes. The crux of our conversation was the difference between the American society and mine back home. My take was short and simple. I told him I found the American society, compared to the one I grew up in, to be very individualistic.

In retrospect, I must mention that I took a risk coming to America on my own without an explicit promise of funding or scholarship. After I paid the out-of-state fees of over $7,000 for the first semester, I was high and dry. I had hoped that with a stellar performance I would surely find some sorts of funding or scholarship. But at the end of the spring semester, nothing seemed to be forthcoming. I was desperate but managed to keep a cool head

However, in the summer of 2016, luck shone on me like a rising sun. I was employed as a student worker at the Tarble Arts Centre, where two hardworking and ebullient women, director Rehema Barber and Sally Bock, the office administrator, took me under their wings. I worked there all through the summer.

Just before the beginning of fall semester, I was employed as a graduate assistant, a position that covers full tuition and provides a monthly stipend. Things were looking up. That same week, my graduate advisor, Mukti Upadhyay, a well-versed professor from Nepal, emailed me to ask if I was still interested in a graduate assistantship position in the department of economics. I thanked him but decided to remain at the Tarble.

Fall semester 2016 rolled away so fast with the hurlyburly of graduate school life. On most days, the weather was perfect or almost so. I was a lot busier. I got engaged more with campus activities, and indulged myself a little more.

I cannot help feeling that I have left out many other important details of my experience so far.  There are, also, other not-so-important details that would surely have made for interesting reading. But for the sake of decorum, I will spare you those juicy, tiny tidbits.


Kehinde Abidun is an economics graduate student. He can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].