Reality and Fiction

They make a lot of medical dramas for tv these days. Well, not just these days, but since forever, actually. I remember watching ER when I was a child, and then watching Grey’s Anatomy. They make a lot of series about working as a doctor or being an intern, but I’ve yet to see a TV show about studying medicine, since it’s a lot more relevant to me at the moment. The shows they make, they’re not really that realistic. I’d like to see something actually relatable.

Maybe I feel like this because I’m usually so busy with premed-school that I have a really hard time making new friends, and being an exchange student only makes it harder. I often feel lonely in my dorm, even when my roommate is in. She’s nice, but we don’t have anything in common other than school. Plus, I don’t think she’s that academically inclined, or cares about getting good grades or learning anything. She often goes partying and comes home after midnight smelling like alcohol, I don’t know how she even got passing grades, but I’m not here to judge. It’s just that I have a lot more at stake.

Keeping in touch with my friends and family is really helpful. They give me strength and remind me of my goal and what I’m doing here. I want to have a bright future, so what if I have a hard time fitting in. My older sister often says that there must be someone who feels just as lonely and lost as I do, we just need to find each other. If more people were more open about feeling lonely, the world would be a better place.

Loneliness is a normal part of life. I’m learning to accept it. It won’t always be like this, I know. At first I tried to distract myself by being busy and studying harder, but I realized that this wasn’t the solution, I became overworked and overwhelmed. It’s like when you have to prevent a water heater from overheating proof: – it will get damaged if you don’t do something. Similarly, I felt ‘overheated’ from all my excessive efforts, which, to be honest, weren’t necessary, I was doing just fine before.

I was thinking about trying to get some hobbies or join some clubs, and maybe meet some people that way, through shared interests. When I was in high school I liked dancing, so maybe I should find a dancing studio? I don’t know. We’ll see!

Good News!

It is tough to be a premed student. All your time is eaten away by your studies. It is a real commitment to become a doctor. Years and years of your life must be devoted to your career. Knowing this, I try to have as much fun as I can in college which means attending a party or two now and them. Since I am from a foreign country, I had to get used to the customs in America when it comes to socializing. I am not that comfortable with going out on my own unescorted. It is perfectly acceptable, of course, but it took a while for me to accept it. In Beirut, from where I come, you do not venture out, even to a relative’s house, without an escort. I don’t want to mention this to my college friends who might find it unliberating and odd. As a result, emotionally I have a difficult time. I don’t want to explain myself.

Because of my traditional upbringing, it is a major step forward for me to go to a party on my own. I am not making a judgment about American ways. I am simply pointing out some cultural differences. Since I don’t reject the local way of life, I am forcing myself to try something new. It is not an issue of personal safety as you might think but of what is acceptable for young women.

I attended a very nice party recently without any problems. I recognized a few people from school and it was easy to strike up a conversation. There was not rampant drinking or misbehavior of any sort. I know better than to go to that sort of event. I felt at home in that I dressed like the other American girls in casual clothing. I chose a long sleeve embellished top and jeans—not the torn kind. I don’t go that far, maybe another time. I always believed that parties were special dress up occasions. Not in the U.S. Since the attire is so simple, you resort to makeup to denote an evening soiree, as I call it. The women in my country love eyeliner and mascara. I went all out and used a special mascara for eyelash extensions to create Eyelashes to Die For. While false, they look so real and they really make you look different. They line the upper lid and create more definition and depth. I am told that they make me look exotic. I get this all the time. I consider it a compliment.

America seems obsessed with makeup. Witness the dozens of mascara ads that run constantly on TV. It says something about American culture, in this regard it is not that different from Beirut. Women worldwide want to look glamourous and attractive. If it takes a few coats of mascara and even false eyelashes, then so be it. It is fun to do and there are so many choices of style from short and thick to long and spidery. Mascara adds volume—the finishing touch.

Dorm Invasion

Living communally in a dorm is fun. It is a surefire way to make new friends when you are a foreign student. People approach you and want to know where you are from and how you made the decision to come to this campus. They want to hear your stories, your interests, your hobbies, and your family background. You, of course, want to hear all about them. You spend hours and hours together in each other’s rooms covering ample territory. I can’t say enough good things about this way of life to initiate your American experience. You have meals together in the cafeteria and also go out once in a while for a treat. You are never really alone. This is my recommended answer to loneliness for anyone new in a country before friendships have been formed.

Things accelerate when you spend a lot of time together. You learn new things and have so many social opportunities. Speaking of social things, we had an all dorm party recently complete with tons of food. Almost every resident brought something. As a result, in spite of our healthy student appetites, we had a lot left over. After the party, there wasn’t enough clean up as people were pretty tired. I normally could forgive this oversight, but the problem was a day later, I found mice scurrying across my dorm room floor. Yikes. Yes, I learned this American expression suitable for the small furry creatures. I hated the idea of lack of cleanliness, and by now the old food was long gone; but the mice stayed. I had to find a humane mouse trap to catch them without making minced meat out of the critters. I wanted something that would bait them with a bit of food, trap them in a box so I could release them outdoors. You can buy these humane traps at any hardware store or make your own with instructions online. Other people seem to share my interest in not beheading anything that moves. The old-fashioned spring trap seems so antiquated now. Who wants to set a trap and the next morning find a struggling mouse begging for mercy.

I was able to acquire two humane traps recommended by the salesman at the hardware store. He promised me to direct kills. It worked. I was able to secure two mice in a box with a trap door. I made a ritual out of letting them go in the nearby park. I didn’t want to release them too close to the dorm in case they should find their way back. Seriously. They aren’t dogs. But maybe they do have a sense of scent. I didn’t want to see their cute little faces even one time more.

Another Renovation Project

Only the lonely know how important it is to make friends when you are fairly new in town and started out without knowing another human soul. Making friends isn’t easy unless you know the ropes. You have to find some common ground. It could be a hobby, a club or organization, taking a class at the local community college, or joining a gym. Sometimes it takes more than one endeavor. Once you make contact, the rest can follow into place. Make sure you show up at least twice. One time and you are an oddity, twice or more and you have entered the friendship stream.

I went the volunteer route. There are so many fine groups with good causes to join and they welcome a fellow traveler. Once a member, there is plenty to do if you are serious about giving of your time. Over the long haul, you will find it a source of many new friends. Recently, I was personally enriched by joining forces with a local charity in my neighborhood. I had heard about it through the grapevine. Fundraising is not my forte, but I liked what I heard. The organization was going to renovate a foreclosed property to make it more energy efficient in order to sell it at a profit. The proceeds would go to the charity first and foremost. We would recoup some of our expenses first.

Renovation can take many turns. You can be ecologically minded if you replace dripping faucets and old kitchen appliances like the stove and refrigerator that eat up utilities. Since our project was a charitable one, we found some neighborhood vendors willing to donate the new appliances. They made sure to include energy efficient ones. They also helped out with the faucets in the kitchen and bathroom. Another vendor helped us make good progress with an energy saver toilet: two to be specific for the two bathrooms. This is a major step in the right direction. Finally, we tackled the fireplace. Most of the old ones don’t even know the meaning of the words “energy efficient.” We found a kind vendor who makes amazing fireplace inserts so we can update this area of concern. So this was not your usual run of the mill renovation project. Because it was for charity and the support we had garnered, we got a lot of media publicity. We had articles on the house with photos in the local paper. It got the public’s attention. We started to get more random donations. It was like manna from heaven. While we had hoped to make some profit on the house, getting new subscribers to our cause was a step in the right direction for our future. It is the man in the street that sustains charities for the most part. We could take on other renovation projects, but they are a lot of work and depend on the kindness of strangers as they say. Meanwhile, I have good times ahead with my new friends.

Adjustment Period

When you relocate from a foreign country, there is an ample adjustment period. For each individual, the time element is different. You have to acclimate as they say. Everyone does it in their own way on their own time. It takes its toll on your body since it is a period of stress that can affect your hair, skink, and nails. The acclimating has to happen on so many levels from housing to customs to food. It can be overwhelming at first. Everything is different from what you are used to. It takes time and it all seems terribly foreign and even alien. Just dealing with finding a living space and understanding what a rental lease is all about is a chore. It makes you feel lonely and isolated until you feel that you are taking root into your new way of life. When things start to turn for the better, you rejoice.

I had a particular problem with fatty and rich American food at first. It is not that I don’t like it, it is tasty in its own way, but it didn’t agree with me in the beginning. I had breakouts on a regular basis. It had a negative effect on my body overall. I had to avoid eating out with friends so I resorted to having people over. My skin, hair, and nails didn’t look their best. I needed to find a vitamin supplement to take care of my appearance. My hair was looking a bit thin, my skin had a pallor, and my nails were brittle and constantly breaking. One remedy that is highly touted is to drink gelatin. You buy it in packets and mix it with water or you can put it in juice. It isn’t the tastiest brew, but it has protein in it to strengthen all the weak aspects of your body surfaces—most particularly the nails. You can also take other supplements to help you get healthy nails and boost what the gelatin is hopefully doing for you. Mom always said beauty comes from within, and boy was she right. Bright eyes, dewy skin, healthy hair-it all starts at the cellular level. I found an expert blend of biotin, borage oil and powerful antioxidants online that help you look your best, 24-7. I like taking the systemic approach to solve health problems. You can put lotions and potions on your hair, skin, and nails with little visible difference. It is a matter of what you ingest.

Over time, I became adjusted to the food, and together with my self-induced treatments, I turned the corner on body health. I was beginning to feel myself again and looking the way I wanted. When you look your best, you feel your best and you present a better demeanor to the world. It makes for an easier time making new friends when you have self-confidence. I shared my beauty secrets with some new acquaintances and they applauded my take-charge efforts. We had fun exchanging more ideas to keep ourselves looking good.

Letter from Home

When you are a foreign student so far away from home that you are constantly lonely, you relish each and every letter that comes your way from family or friends. These days, letters are a rarity indeed. They are from a bygone era when people actually had pens. Ha ha! Most of the time I am pretty preoccupied and living in a communal dorm, I have people to be with, especially for meals. Only the lonely know what it is like to eat alone. We share stories of our lives, or immediate families, and the trivia of human existence, but it makes me so homesick that I can barely stand it. I sit and wait sometimes for days and days for that special letter from home. I take in every word with glee. No matter how mundane the account of what I already know is taking place, I linger over the letter and can barely lay it down. It is odd to get an actual piece of mail you can read over and over again. Not an email which is so impersonal. Maybe because they are so short and not so sweet. When it comes to my parents, they know email won’t express their emotions in the way that a paper letter can. They take the time to craft a real message, which I sincerely appreciate. I am glad to hear that everyone is well and they recount how and why, even the family dog.

Now what about dad? They tell me he got a new power washer to take care of the grimy wheels of the family car and he can’t stop talking about it. It has this length of hose, it has that kind of spray nozzle. It is adjustable and easy to move around. And so on. It is an electric system that he plugs right into the outlet in the garage. I get every little detail. I think they are bored hearing about it so why tell me. I think to make the point. I will have to mention it in my letter back to them. I will have to admire his foresight in getting something that will make him more useful around the house and yard. Okay, dad, you are a really practical man I will say. Now what else can you do with this gadget? How about cleaning the garden walkways, the oily garage floor, the back walls of the house where that old vine was removed and it left traces of dirt and dead leaves. I am sure the dog house could use a real good dousing. You almost wish you would take a power washer into the house, but no; they are not designed for interior chores. He will have to do those on his own with manual power so to speak. There is nothing like a pair of hands to clean just about anything. They dust, they vacuum, they mop the floor, they wax the wood, and they wash dishes. Listen up, dad.