It was 2 a.m. when I got off the plane in Kolkata, India, and immediately I noticed two things: the heat, which was almost suffocating, and the condition of the airport, which consisted of only two gates. It was entirely different from even the airport in Delhi, which was about as upscale as you can get. I was paralyzed with fear. I didn’t even know the name of the person picking me up from the airport, but we somehow found each other and I made it to my home for the next six weeks. I promptly laid in bed for the next three hours having an anxiety attack because I knew no one and I was miles away from home. I’d only really felt like this once before in my life, and it was the day I moved into Penn.
Culture shock is both gratifying and terrifying. You feel awed by this history and significance surrounding you, excited by the prospects of something new and afraid that you’ll be seen as unworthy of participating in it. Whether this has to deal with flying across the world or driving a few hours to attend a university, the experience is the same. Right now, a good majority of Penn 2016ers are trying to figure out their place in a community that has a vast historical and social meaning. They feel frightened, eager, lonely, anxious. We all felt like that. That feeling will pass. And when it does you’ll be left in a place that feels like home, even if it’s as far away from your actual home as possible.
My sister had a baby last month. A boy. He’s adorable and tiny and squishy and named after a President. And as I sat in a spotless, air–conditioned hospital waiting room for eight hours watching a Steelers game, I thought about all the times I sat in hospital waiting rooms in India while I was working with a medical clinic. The experiences could not have been more different. India was hot and cramped, and one time, monsoon rains flooded the hospital with waist–high water that we had to wade through to reach the doctor. But in the end, it didn’t matter. My sister received the best treatment possible, as did the patients in India. Different cultures, different experiences — but ultimately everything was the same.
I spent six weeks in India and my only regret is that it took me a few days to assimilate into the culture. The food, the language and the people might be shocking at first, but eventually they become rich and endearing. And that’s how I felt about Penn too. My life at Penn may be different from my life back home or in India, but it still feels like home, which is what really matters.