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Davis, California

Monday, May 27, 2024

Column: The real life

When you leave for a year-long exchange, you put your previous life on pause and start creating a new one from scratch at your temporary home. Obviously, Skype and Facebook help to keep in touch with family and friends back home, but it is the new (and live!) friendships that you’re really interested in developing. How often do you get a chance to meet so many new, interesting people who also are in the same life-changing situation as you?!

This year was supposed to be my American experience. It actually turned out to be our experience set in the American background. It just so happens that the group of people I hang out with are mostly exchange students. I guess it’s natural in a new, strange environment to stick to your own kind. And in this 30,000 plus community, my kind was other exchangees.

We all met on our first week in Davis, starting with the essential trip to IKEA followed by an international students orientation, frozen yogurt at YoloBerry, barbeques and a trip to San Francisco. But in the background, some other very interesting things were happening during that first week. Smaller, more exclusive groups were forming within the big group of  exchange students at Davis — the company of 80 people was simply too big to keep.

Some groups were formed based on nationalities, level of coolness or shared expectations for this exciting year. There was no competition or bad feelings; everything just happened naturally. Funnily enough though, after that first week, the groups rarely come into contact. When we do (usually at parties), it’s always a bit awkward — although we know everything about each other from Facebook, actually we don’t know each other at all …

I don’t think that this ignorance is intentional. Making new friendships, while exciting, can also be very exhausting. After a while, you realize that you are tired of sharing yourself with everyone. But when you turn to those who know you best already, sharing is never a chore. I am sure that there are people in the other groups that I could be very good friends with, but how do you start a first conversation with someone you’ve supposedly known for seven months?

I wish this wasn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong, I love my people, and our group is so big that we need a Doodle in order to see who’s available when just to grab lunch. However at times a change of company can be very rewarding. Some time ago I went on a trip to Joshua Tree. The fellow travellers were all internationals. While I knew most of them from before, most of them weren’t my people. Obviously, it ended up being an amazing trip and a life lesson too!

All those groups just happened. In a different place, at a different time, we might’ve shuffled in some other way. We act like there are some boundaries — we are here and they are there, us and them. There are people migrating from one group to another; for them the lines are more fuzzy. I wonder if the others have ever discussed this?

Anyways, in reality we’re all in the same boat: we all freaked out last week after receiving an official reminder that there’s only 60 days left until the expiration of our visas. Two months and everyone will scatter all over the world. And my paused life has recently been requiring more and more attention. I still need to buy tickets back home, find a place to live in Edinburgh … time to get back to real life. But what can be more real than this?

Each and every one of us will be bonded by the shared experience of Davis and by our fading tans from the California sun. The groups will take on a different life: trips to see each other, letters, FB messages … Hey now, wipe away those tears — we’re still in Davis, there’s still plenty of time to form a music band, we can still make those brownies and we can still learn Italian. And our international student card hasn’t expired yet, in case you’ll need to get out of paying the fine for ignoring yet another STOP sign.

To hear more about group dynamics of international students you can reach KRISTINA SIMONAITYTE at ksimonaityte@ucdavis.edu.


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