A tale of a foreign fruit, Part II: Fortune Cookie

Alright. How the hell did I get here?

I thought to myself, staring at the room full of people, as I cleared my throat to say the first words — guess this is kind of an “inauguration speech”.


First year of college, I was borderline depressed. If you think it’s a drastic use of words — it’s not, but let’s skip to the less mundane part.

I was not packed with work. School was easy enough. Everything seemed to be in place. I filled out all the tedious international students’ documentations, finally slept on a bed sheet with real pillows instead of lying on a towel and a teddy bear, my roommate invited me home for Thanksgiving — which is amongst the few clues that I’m socially adaptable — what else now?

I was expecting something big to happen. Something spectacular. Isn’t it supposed to be that way? You know, how people talk about college as the “best time of their life”: that crazy things happen, that it’s just “so much fun”, and that you meet amazing people that make you adventurous or hippie or nihilistic or broke — along those lines.

I watched “How I met your mother” on newly-discovered Netflix and intoxicated myself with Jelly Beans (oh, great new world it is, America). We could argue I was adventurous: does overeating count as reaching out of your comfort zone? Not like it was a familiar activity. I indulged the Jelly Beans. The beef jerky. The cheese puffs, too.

I called home often. Talked to Mom. Talked to sisters. Talked to the few I cared about. I didn’t miss home in its physical form— I missed the people. I wished they were there to chew on the Jelly Beans with me. Or to see for themselves how much of peanut butter is consumed in America. Or the brunch cult. Or how people use pencils for writing. Pencils — not pens, can you imagine that? Pencils are practically used just for drawing or annoying your classmates by using it to poke at them, back where I came from.

When I managed to force myself to go out of my cave and explore the world, I found myself at the involvement fair. The dilemma of choice was overwhelming, so I joined nothing, except for the Vietnamese Association. Basically because Mom advised me to do so. “You’ll forget how to speak Vietnamese” — she said. “You need to talk to your people” — she said. Right. As if Vietnamese wasn’t the first language I spoke, or that the first comic books I read weren’t in my mother tongue. I wanted to tell her that it would be more likely for me to lose my Russian vocabulary with slangs and up-to-date curse words, but I decided to just do as she advised. Because, in my culture, disobeying would mean dishonoring your family.

No, not really.

So yes, the Vietnamese Association. Looking back now, I see the steamy hot pot we made for Lunar New Year that year, celebrating with of 5–6 people (the Facebook group now has 123 members — how crazy is that?) I see the dance we performed for a cultural event in the HUB. I directed the dance. Basically, that summed up my activity with student organizations for the whole freshman year.

“Directed one dance for an organization that had at most 10 active members.” Not exactly the most appealing line for your resume. But, hey, I got to speak Vietnamese and my Mom was happy.

I did attend one conference though. The GELE (Global Engagement and Leadership Experience) conference, Spring of my freshman year, where I interacted with more people than I did throughout the year, some of whom reappeared in my life later on in the most amusing ways possible. But that’s later on.

The rest of my spare time that year I spent pondering about humans, about the meaning of life and the universe — the psychology and anthropology classes really got me there; painting in Jackson Pollock’s style (which is equivalent to smearing paint all over the white canvas): my roommate Nikki was polite enough to appreciate my effort by saying that “it looks interesting.” I took pictures sometimes. People, bunnies, ducks, squirrels. It was hard to NOT take pictures of the latter — there were so many of them, they just get in the picture anyways. Need to mention, I did all of these while listening to Mumford and Sons, the Lumineers, and Atmosphere on Pandora — speaking of new discoveries in America.

And, yes, I did go out and spend time with people. I almost enjoyed it, but not too much.


I thought college would give me clarity. But my first year was confusing as hell. Big school? Large social circles? Look at my birthday picture that year. In a school of 40,000 people, I deliberately talked to 4. Well, Nikki was my roommate, so it’s not like I could really skip the initial conversation. 3 then.

My last thoughts for the school year of 2012-2013?

Shit. Shit. Shit.

This is not good.

I’ve gotta do something.

The fortune cookie confirmed it.

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