I am a graduate student in Veterinary and Biomedical Science at the University of Georgia (UGA). I am living in the small town of Athens where there is a really friendly atmosphere. Georgia is a state that has been well known for its “southern hospitality”. For example people always welcome you with “how are you doing” or wave and smile at pedestrians whether they know them or not. I was also impressed by people’s courtesy and friendliness: a person will hold the door for you as you enter and you do the same for the person behind you.
As an international student I experienced culture shock which consisted of the honeymoon stage, frustration stage, adjustment stage and acceptance stage. At the honeymoon stage, I was impressed with how organized US systems were including the bus schedule and having all campus event schedules available. For instance since I know my class schedules and semester breaks for the next two years, I can arrange a trip early and am able to secure cheap flights and accommodation. I didn’t find any trash on the road or at public places in my campus. Also I was surprised at how well my professor treats me, especially when she invited friends to celebrate my birthday at her house.
After the first month in the USA, I fell into the Frustration stage. I usually slept for just 3 to 4 hours a day and had to spend a lot of time in the lab. Some classes were really tough and exhausting which made me worried that I might failed. Moreover, as foreigner, it was hard to find friends at first due to the language barrier and different sense of humor. These not only made me sad and lonely but also cry uncontrollably. The worst thing was that I felt like withdrawing from all classes and return home. Moving from a tropical area to a cold area was not an easy transition and made me miserable.
However, I always encouraged myself that everything will be fine and that I just needed time to get used to the new environment. Fortunately, my family and friends from Indonesia always gave me support which reassured me that I was not alone and spurred me on to keep doing my best. Besides that, my motto is “work hard and play hard” which important to keep the balance in my life. I did hang gliding where I flew 1000 feet above sea level and tried white water rafting at Ocoee River in Tennessee, which was the Olympics venue in 1996. I also joined a church community and received warm welcome from many international students.
During this time, I became more familiar and comfortable with the culture, people, food and language. I was starting to get along with coworkers in my department and the vet students. Last year, I celebrated Christmas with Christian Veterinary Fellowship of UGA (CVF-UGA) group which introduced me to many new friends. Developing good networks is also important. Thanks to this, I had the opportunity to work in the Biosecurity Level 2 Laboratory of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Athens for 5 days. Over the next semester, I was still busy but I felt less homesick and could handle the situation better. I believe I just passed the adjustment stage, hurray!!
Welcome to the Acceptance stage! After struggling with culture shock for almost five months, I have embraced the culture and people, and now I see this place as my second home in this season. With great support from a number of faculty staff especially my professor who helped me to achieve my goals, I presented my first scientific poster at the American College of Veterinary Pathologist (ACVP) annual meeting in Atlanta. ACVP is an organization consisting of board-certified scientists that has been setting the standard for veterinary pathology since 1949. This experience has significantly increased my confidence that I will be able to apply my knowledge and skills at the vet school in Nusa Cendana University when I return to Indonesia.
As I said before, networking can open many doors for you. A few months ago before the ACVP meeting, I was given a fantastic opportunity to give a presentation at the 42nd Annual Southeastern Veterinary Pathology Conference. A pathology resident kindly assisted me in the preparation of this presentation. She helped me modify the slides and taught me how to deliver a speech using a level of English that is appropriate for an audience consisting of pathologists and vet students from the Southern and Eastern Vet School. I learned from this whole experience that commitment and perseverance are vital to achieve success.
I am active in organizations such as the International Student Organization (or ISO-Indonesia) and Christian Veterinary Fellowship of UGA (CVF-UGA). I had a great experience with CVF-UGA. One unforgettable moment in my life was when I participated in a mission trip with this group to serve Native Indians in the Navajo and Apache Reservation. As a veterinarian, I did spaying and neutering. Compared with other places in the US, people in these areas still live in poverty especially those in the Apache reservation where the rate of suicide is very high. I could never have imagined that I would have the opportunity to meet and interact with the Native Indians. The highlight was when one Native Indian man and his family performed a traditional Indian dance with complete Indian outfits and invited us to join in.I also participated as a model for Indonesia’s Sumba Island’s traditional clothing, the tenun ikat, at an Indonesian cultural night in Atlanta. Surprisingly, when my Ecuadorian friend saw the variety of colorful outfits and beautiful models in my photos, she was bewildered and curious and asked “Were you celebrating Halloween?” I laughed and replied “No, we were displaying our traditional costumes and Indonesia is very diverse.”
Well, I think this is my last paragraph. Finally!! The purposes of this letter are to encourage you to be persistent when you are in difficult situations, and to establish good networks wherever you are because you never know when they might open doors and help you achieve your goals. Last but not least, remember to ensure a good balance between work/study and pleasure. Hopefully this letter has encouraged all of you.
Best, Putri Pandarangga