Scholar Sythong Run is a freshman at Syracuse University studying Public Health and Environment, Sustainability, and Policy.
When I left for the U.S., I was nervous because I’ve never traveled such a long distance on my own. My family — my parents, my older sister and younger sister — came to the airport with me but no one knew what to say. We didn’t take a family photo or hug; we were all too stunned to remember to take a photo and physical contact has never been part of our love language.
There, I spent most of my time sleeping, catching up with friends and family, attending my virtual high school graduation ceremony, and joining virtual orientation to prepare for my first semester and to go to campus.
Arriving on campus and seeing my roommate for the first time was one of the happiest times I’ve had since I got here. I was so glad Syracuse University allows students to do a roommate search and even provides a platform to ease the process.
I dropped off my bags, my roommate helped me pick up the packages my mentors had ordered for me, and we went to lunch. Later that day we walked around campus and located all the buildings where our classes would be held. And by the time we were done, we went and grabbed dinner. My first day of classes would start the next day.
1. People don’t get my name right.
I am sure this is a problem for any international student or anyone with a unique name, but I feel extra frustrated because I like to believe that my name is really easy to say —see tong; sounds like song. The spelling of my name (Sythong) also throws people off. Most people say my name as “sigh-thong” and I’ve gotten used to it, but it frustrates me when they don’t ask if they’ve said it correctly.
2. I didn’t know what to expect.
I wished that I was taught about all the platforms I needed to be familiar with to navigate life at Syracuse. It took me a while to figure out the system but I have a positive outlook on it: I would love to think that it will make me a great big sister for the next scholars to come. (SHE-CAN Note: Sythong will be welcoming scholar Pisey Kim in fall 2021!)
3. Making friends was extremely hard.
4. Big time difference between the US and Cambodia.
The time difference between Syracuse and Cambodia is 11 hours; calling home has been extremely tricky. There were times when I really wanted to call home but couldn’t, because my family would be sleeping. There were also times when my family called me at the wrong time and woke me up very early, but that just means we talk about time zone differences during every call.
1. I’ve become wiser.
I’ve been reflecting on my life and making decisions for myself while growing into an adult at the age of 18. There were times when things were difficult and times I felt vulnerable; I am happy that I felt okay to discuss those feelings and seek the help I needed. This first semester I’ve for sure learned to take better care of myself and how to be an adult.
2. I have a few amazing friends and roommate.
Since the beginning of this semester my roommate has been my dearest friend. We do almost everything together because we want to minimize our contact with other people and keep each other safe. We even work at the dining hall together and take on similar shifts so we can go back to our room together and eat and chill after work. I also made two friends from my work at the dining hall and a friend from my major, and we would meet up to eat dinner every now and then. We always made sure we got tested before meeting up. I made four amazing friends this semester and couldn’t be happier.
This semester has been rough for many freshmen and I am incredibly glad that I enjoyed it despite the confusion and frustrations along the way. Some classes have been challenging but I enjoyed talking to my professors after class and discussing health and public health.
I also found that I am ready for more work and wanted to reconnect with my work in environment and conservation, so I decided to declare a second major in environment, sustainability, and policy. I can’t wait to embark on my spring semester.
4. I was able to find on-campus employment.