From one international student to another

To all the incoming international students of the Clark University Class of 2018, 

First, I would like to say congratulations! You have made it into a group of select few who have been handpicked for their academic competence, social involvement and aspirations to leave a mark on their communities. There are billions in the world who do not have a fraction of the good fortune you enjoy right now. Take a minute to pat yourself on the back and appreciate everything in your life.

I do not claim to represent all international students (judging by how diverse that community is) but we do share some common experiences. I know that you will come to love being at Clark. Having said that, it does take a bit of time and effort at first to feel part of the Clark community, which is completely natural given that you are in new country, separated from your family, friends and things that have become so familiar to you over that past eighteen odd years. This is not me spouting advice at you. Rather, I would like to share my experiences at Clark and what helped me feel at home right away. A lot of what I did to adjust is common sense, like being yourself and trying to make connections with other people. But there are three specific things that not all of us may be inclined to do, and I want to share these so that you make the most of what Clark has to offer you.

Firstly, I am so thankful for having joined a number of theater groups and Model UN at Clark. These gave me a sense of purpose, kept me occupied during my free time and were a good respite from my academic coursework. Most importantly, I met some of my best friends at Clark through these activities, and I know that we will stick together until the very end. Clark has so much to offer in terms of sports, clubs and organizations and community. Signing up for any one of these will enrich your college experience, give you a number of practical skills beyond what you gain in the classroom and offer a lifetime of memories and good friends.

Students sometimes tend to take Worcester for granted, although there are so many interesting things going on in the city. I regret the fact that I didn’t start exploring Worcester until the second semester of my freshman year. Worcester is as incredibly diverse as Clark, given its status as a major refugee resettlement city, and has so much to offer in terms of food, culture, and fun things to see and do. The food options range from Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese and Chinese to Jamaican and Dominican, with everything in between. Shrewsbury Street is lined with restaurants and cafés, which for a foodie like me is heaven served on a plate. The city hosts a number of interesting events like the Greek and Albanian cultural festivals, the food truck festival and ‘stART on the Street’— one of the largest street art, music and performance festivals in Massachusetts. The Worcester Art Museum has a wonderful collection of truly unique pieces, such as the largest floor mosaic in North America. Use the free bikes available on campus, take the bus, walk around, and explore as much of Worcester as you can. I promise you that you won’t be disappointed!

My parting shot to you would be to step out of your comfort zone and try out as many new experiences as possible. I came to America knowing that my time here is limited and that I had been given an incredible opportunity to experience a completely new culture. I was determined to immerse myself in it. In keeping with this promise, I made a conscious effort to connect with as many American students as possible and soak up as much of their life experiences as I could. I tried out new activities, like musical theater and dancing. I traveled to New York and Boston when I had free time. There is a lot more that I can and intend to do, but it is that mindset that counts. I urge you to approach your life here at Clark with that same attitude. Having friends from your country, region or culture is wonderful, and we all need a piece of home at some point. But limiting your experiences to just one circle of friends would deny you so many exciting experiences that help you grow as a person. You will never get the chance to be in a community as diverse and accepting as Clark.

I hope my experiences will help you in your time here at Clark. At the end of the day, your college life is in your hands. You have complete and utter freedom to do whatever you want with it. I hope that ten years from now, you can look back at your life at Clark and have no regrets. Good luck and I will see you very soon!

-Themal Ellawala


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