As I walked into the movie theater with my friend, I found myself surrounded by all sorts of people whispering and shouting in Lebanese; we were all sharing in that pre-movie excitement, and rumor had it that the director was apparently in the theater.
For me, the experience seemed quite random. Where else would I have found this instance of Lebanese culture if not at home? For a brief second I forgot that I was in Washington, D.C., and I remembered the comfort and fun of a typical night out in Beirut.
My friend had suggested we go watch the North American premiere of “Ghadi,” the Lebanese movie that I never got the chance to see when it came out last year. Its screening was part of the 19th Annual Arabian Sights Film Festival in Washington, D.C. They were showing different Arab movies throughout these first nine days of November, including movies from Algeria, Palestine, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Tunisia. It has been about four months since I said my goodbyes to family and friends, left my home country for the first time, boarded my first flight and headed to D.C.; yet for the first time, I felt like I was home again.
When moving from a different country with a different culture and language, it’s hard to gauge how the transition is going to feel. I’ve been exposed to American music, television and books almost my entire life, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the United States was going to be like. I expected a friendly and organized country with political stability, where people cross the streets according to light signals and drivers follow traffic regulations, where common transportation is well-planned and where there is never an end to opportunities.
Still, I harbored the small insecurity — as any international student does — that I was bound to face some form of culture shock. In my mind, I felt that it was going to hit me any day; I’d be walking down the streets and BAM, there it would be. However, it shocked me in a way that I never anticipated.
There was a gradual series of small and random observations, which seemed to compound and compel me toward the one thing that I did not expect to occur so suddenly: homesickness.
I started to notice cultural differences that were overshadowed by the “honeymoon phase.” Why do people not use WhatsApp? Why are all the portions supersized? Why can’t I find Kinder Surprise? Where are the Eastpak backpacks? Why doesn’t the theater ticket include my seat number? And the weirdest of all: Why flavored hummus?
Homesickness is an inevitable feeling that all international students experience. But although I don’t think I can possibly miss home more than I do now, I can’t imagine not being a student here in D.C. I am meeting great people and having an amazing educational experience. The opportunities and resources are endless. I’m part of a diverse, brilliant, passionate and talented student body, and I would not trade this opportunity for anything else.
The homesickness has had a positive effect as well; I feel more connected to my culture now than ever before. Previously, I had only thought about my culture from one perspective, which unfortunately emphasized the flaws of my country: political instability, corrupt government, electricity going off three hours a day, chaotic traffic and so on. While these factors might be negative, I miss the normality of mixing Arabic, French and English while talking, the dabke, having labneh or knafeh for breakfast and adding laban (like the unsweetened Greek yogurt) to almost every Mediterranean food.
I’ve been listening to Arabic music like Fairouz, watching Lebanese series like “Shankaboot,” reading books about the war in Lebanon and the region and craving foods I’ve never craved like falafel and kishk, all of which are new habits that I’ve adopted recently.
I appreciate that being exposed to other cultures has helped me to develop a newfound pride in my own culture. But I can’t say that I’ve settled in completely; I am still adapting to this new and exciting lifestyle. I can’t talk about the weather with other people because I haven’t gotten a grip on the Celsius-Fahrenheit conversion; I get confused about the date because I’m not used to the month-before-day format yet; I still can’t measure using feet or pounds.
Even so, I understand that this is a progression, a transition that I am going through. One day, I’ll find myself fully integrated. Until then, I will continue to appreciate the wonders that a Skype conversation can do when homesickness strikes.
Tala Anchassi is a freshman in the School of Nursing and Health Studies.