After living abroad for a couple years, I realized that moving to a foreign country as an international is just like being transplanted as a tree.
When you plant a seedling, it will grow and thrive as long as the environment is suitable. However, international students usually move to a foreign country in their 20s or 30s, an age that is considered a full-grown tree in their home country. To transplant a full-grown tree, you first need to dig a trench around the tree, cut off part of the root system, then excavate a root ball of dirt. Next, the excavated tree is transported tens of thousands of miles away to a completely foreign land.
It takes careful steps and many critical conditions for a transplanted tree to survive and thrive in the new environment; the same is true for an international student moving abroad in their 20s or 30s. The right soil, appropriate temperature, and water are just a few of the necessary conditions to ensure the tree starts to grow new roots in the new soil. For someone who just moved to the U.S. from a foreign country, connecting with local communities is like growing out new roots in your new environment, something that is absolutely essential for survival.
I myself was like such a transplanted tree. After 30+ years growth in China, I was transplanted across the globe to the U.S. a few years ago. I was dropped onto a ground I had minimal knowledge about prior to the transplantation. It was a challenging and long process to finally feel acclimated. Luckily, I was intentional at the very beginning that I needed to grow my new roots in Michigan.
Joining local groups that share your interests is a great way to connect with the locals. I love running and outdoor activities. So, as soon as I arrived in Ann Arbor, I signed up for a trail race Run Woodstock, where I met some local runners and won my first Michigan medal. I also joined a couple Facebook running groups, such as A2Runners and Michigan Runners, and started going to the weekly runs with these like-minded people.
Meetup is another great platform to find your interest groups. Whether your interest is music, movies, singing, dancing, sports, robots, animals or food, you’ll always find several local groups that share your interests. And it is a lot easier to get to know people and communicate ideas if you share the same passion. Language is not a barrier any more. Ann Arbor is such a diverse community that there are almost always other internationals in any of these events. Currently, I’m in Ann Arbor Adventure Club, Ann Arbor Runners, Michigan Adventurers Club, and The Ann Arbor Chinese Language and Culture Meetup Group. All these groups are very welcoming and open to newcomers. All you need to do is sign up and show up. Then if you like it, keep showing up.Another way of connecting with local communities is through volunteering. The International Center organizes volunteer events throughout the year, but you can also find your own volunteering opportunities pretty much anywhere. Who doesn’t want volunteers?! The Humane Society is a great place for animal lovers; Give 365 is the volunteer group under Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation that does a lot of work to beautify local parks and recreation facilities; many non-profit organizations recruit volunteers on VolunteerMatch.org. Don’t ever think volunteer jobs are low-skill labor work. You’ll be surprised how much you learn and how good you feel through volunteering.
Written by Liz Zhang
International Center Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Country of Origin: China
Master's Student in the School of Social Work and School of Public Health