Earlier this year, the borders re-opened and the University of Auckland welcomed hundreds of overseas students onto campus again, both on 360 exchanges and as international students. For those of us to whom Auckland is routine, the city feels familiar and instrumental to our needs. For those arriving, at first everything feels novel and exciting, just as it can for tourists. But things quickly change once you must adapt to the host country’s ways and no one tells you about the unspoken rules. The thrill of only being responsible for yourself can quickly turn into loneliness, and a new city or country can feel hostile and intimidating if you aren’t well supported.
Sometimes I think back on how overwhelming I found moving to Auckland, even after being in New Zealand for four years (from Canada and Colombia). People make a place home. When someone goes out of their way to get to know you, it can be the best part of your day – especially if you’re just settling in, are eating lunch alone, going home to an empty flat, and have no one to talk to during the gaps between classes. Now add the challenges of being from overseas: language barriers, homesickness, and a general unfamiliarity with the campus and the city. So someone’s initiative to get to know you can make the harder parts of adjustment far more bearable.
Most people have to settle into an unfamiliar environment at some point in their lives. The philosopher Alain de Botton says all people go through common experiences, like independence, grief, love, and failure, but it’s taken as a given that we all know how to handle them. We often endure them without talking about how challenging they feel. Everyone knows one should treat people the way one wants to be treated, but it’s also very easy to stay within one’s circle. So it’s important to look around and if you know someone is new, consider how you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes.
I like to remember that newcomers took a leap and decided to leave their familiar life in exchange for all the risks and unpredictability of life as an immigrant (or a non-Aucklander starting from scratch). Getting to know people from different places exposes you to experiences, stories, and thought processes you may not otherwise encounter. A friend of mine told me that one of the reasons his high school education was so special was because his teachers came from so many countries and he learned so much about the places each one came from.
If someone in your class is from abroad or has recently moved to Auckland, get to know them. It may seem odd or you may feel awkward, but the likely benefits outweigh the risks, and you may end up making a great friend. The New York Times sometimes publishes stories about people who met on exchanges in college and remain lifelong friends across the globe. At minimum, you’ll have helped show someone that people in Auckland are friendly. At best, it may become a story of “Imagine if I hadn’t spoken to you!”
Photo retrieved from: https://www.dreamstime.com/illustration/unique-person.html