Remember them days …
I had to take some wine, do some therapy, meditate and give myself a pep talk before I wrote this post. The first years were tough … tough AF.
Money – My folks gave me some pocket money but … everything was 10x the price compared to home. So the amount didn’t really go a long way. I got a job at school to supplement (minimum wage was ~$9, I survived on $720 per month as international students can only work 20 hours a week)! No one understood why I shopped at Goodwill (Rainbow and Wet Seal were a reach!) or Safeway (I didn’t even know Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s existed). Every time I went to buy something, I converted the money to my home currency and more often than not determined that it was too costly. To date, I still buy stuff from discount stores (albeit higher end ones ish – hey Nordstrom Rack and Saks OffFifth). I still can’t fathom buying most items at full price when I think of how I had to tighten my purse strings back in the day.
The accent (and all the ignorant comments that come when you have one) – I’ve always been told I have a “cute” accent but that wasn’t the case when I came here – I was MOCKED for my accent. While a good number were curious about where I was from, majority of the people in the environment I was in, told me to move back to my caveman continent, assumed I lived with animals or insisted that they couldn’t understand me even though I had a much better grasp of English than they did. For example, one day I was walking in the student center and ran into one of my classmates and stopped for some quick small talk. This was a classmate that I’d greeted and exchanged subtleties a few times. It was therefore to my horror and shock, when he stopped and SCREAMED that he doesn’t understand me and that I should stop disturbing him. I was so embarrassed … I have to the say, the ridicule gave me a complex … I stopped speaking freely, I was scared to open up for the fear of being mocked.
Second Class Citizen – I had a comfortable background back home (we had basics and then some and attended good schools but were not the kind that went on international vacations) and when I landed in the US I was very quickly informed that I was at the bottom of the pecking order as an African, a black person and as a black woman. This hit me hard! I’ve mentioned in my intro that I was the life of the party – to go from that to everyone mocking me was tough! At that time I was warm, outgoing and social but that energy was squashed really quickly by the community I was in. I was diminished to someone who allegedly lived in a hut or tree somewhere in Africa. When I tried to reach out, I always got some type of verbal lashing.
Community – Africans generally tend to be warm and welcoming especially where I am from! It was very easy to form friendships at home and develop strong ties whether at church or school or the neighborhood I lived in – I still have close ties to date. So I figured it would be the same when I got here, I thought it would be a walk in the park making new friends – I could picture myself spending weekends gossiping with my new friends in our dorm rooms or apartments. But Alas! I found that most relationships were very transactional – it was always a case of what can a person do for another?! I was crestfallen as someone who really values genuine relationships – I stared withdrawing into myself, I started not trying to make connections because I knew I didn’t want to deal with the disappointment of unrequited friendship. I stopped being the warm and fun person I used to be.
Stay tuned for part 2 …