Exploring and embracing new experiences


by Dardanë Halimi

Third Blog Lead

SUMMARY: In the first weeks in the US, Dardanë tries to adapt to the American culture, explores new foods, builds a support network, and embraces new opportunities.

As I took that first step off the plane, my heart raced with excitement. It had been a long and exhausting flight from Kosovo. The first thing on my mind? Coffee. I've always had a soft spot for that warm, comforting brew, and after that airplane coffee, I wanted a good cup of coffee.

With coffee in my mind, I passed passport control, knowing that my friends, would be there to pick me up. Their warm smiles and genuine welcome instantly put me at ease, and for the next few days, I would be staying at their apartment, giving me time to settle in before moving into my room.

Adapting to the American culture in those first weeks as an international graduate student was a journey in itself. Daily life was different in numerous ways. From the way people greeted each other, to the meals they enjoyed, it was an intriguing mix of the familiar and the foreign. For example, the custom of tipping everywhere, which is not a common practice in Kosovo, was an adjustment I had to make, as it's an integral part of American dining and service culture. Also, the use of Fahrenheit for temperature measurements instead of Celsius was new to me. However, it was wonderful to know that people in the US share a love of coffee.

Grocery shopping was another adventure. The wide variety of unfamiliar products turned each visit to the store into a joyful exploration. I remember standing in the sweets aisle, looking at the countless choices. It brought a smile to my face to find comfort in the brands I recognized from back home while staying curious about trying new American snacks.

Building a support network and forming meaningful connections was very important for me as an international student. During the first few weeks, I struggled with various tasks, such as managing paperwork, attending orientation sessions to get acquainted with the university's academic system and campus facilities, navigating the city and its public transportation system, and adjusting to the new educational system. While I sometimes felt overwhelmed, my determination to make the most of this opportunity kept me moving forward. Supportive individuals that I met helped me navigate the transition and transformed the new environment into a welcoming home away from home.

Since I was exploring a lot of food and different cuisines, I started going to the gym at JMU’s University Recreation Center (UREC), which offers a very big space and various programs, including outdoor adventure programs, indoor aquatics, group exercises, dance classes, intramural sports, and others. I wanted to be active and maintain a healthy lifestyle because I feared the impact of the super sweet and salty American food.

Additionally, attending my first American football game was also very exciting. I must admit, I didn't understand much of what was happening on the field, but the energy was amazing, and I enjoyed every moment. The halftime show with an impressive performance by the Marching Royal Dukes and cheerleaders was a highlight of the experience and something I hadn't seen before in sports events in Kosovo.

During those first weeks, I embraced the challenges and valued the experiences. The friendships I've made and the cultural differences I'm experiencing are making this journey truly enriching.

Dardanë visits Washington, D.C.

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Published: Monday, November 6, 2023

Last Updated: Monday, December 11, 2023

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