Category Archives: Diversity

Making Friends and Building a Community when Moving to Boston

from an international student’s perspective

Written by Ebru Ece Gulsan, Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering

Congratulations! You made it!

You are moving to the Boston area and are possibly even coming from the other side of the world.

Your parents are proud, friends are jealous.

As time goes by, maybe they start to be more bittersweet. They think you are too busy living the dream life to FaceTime with them as often as you used to, but they have no idea how difficult it is to wake up at 5 am to make sure you call them at a reasonable time since there is a 10 hour time difference. You sound “annoying” or “displeased” when you complain about the tremendous amount of grad school work-load because your loved ones think you do not appreciate your opportunities enough. It looks so easy when you see the third-year international students, because they all seem settled down and have already built their communities. They are all incredibly fluent in English while you still take your time to construct your sentences in the most grammatically perfect way not to be judged by native speakers, and sometimes give up on speaking up because you are exhausted of overthinking.

I get it.

I moved to Boston from a country where America is only known for its fast food, huge cars, and “drive thrus.” Maybe also for TV ads of prescribed medications (like seriously?).

Even though I traveled abroad a bunch, lived in different countries and went to an English medium university (which are supposed to teach me English), it took me a long time to feel comfortable with my new first language. I still remember the first time I landed at Boston Logan Airport and not understanding a word the security guy said to me. I was freaking out about writing a scientific article or a textbook chapter in English. The first research group meeting I attended was a nightmare – leaving aside the scientific content of the discussions, I could barely understand the language that they spoke. There is a difference between “native speakers who speak English” and “internationals who speak English.”

Language shock is not even the first challenge you face when you move in from another country. Yes, we live in a more global age and all of us are exposed to other cultures and understandings, but this does not necessarily mean that we will immediately adjust and things will go smoothly. There are so many small cultural differences and nuances, such as different gender roles, work ethics, and gestures that are not visible at first. You will learn how to write e-mails, how to flirt, or what to say someone who has lost a significant other in another language. Health insurance, contracts, financial agreements, leases; all these small things work differently, and now you have to read everything before pressing “I agree to the terms and conditions.” It is like learning how to walk again, although you thought you had expertise in it. On top of all these challenges, there is also the time you realize you came to this country all by yourself and you have to make friends and build your own community to survive.

The first big step to take is to accept the fact that you will need to put in effort. You probably will not find yourself in your perfect friend group spontaneously without making the first move. Luckily, Boston is such a diverse and international city. It is easy to blend in. It might feel strange or new to hang out with people with different backgrounds at the beginning, but Bostonians have been doing this for such a long time. Plus, you speak their language! This makes a huge difference because if you were to move in another country where the first language is not English, it would be much more difficult to befriend locals. Despite the fact that they can speak English if they want to, people will hardly give up on the comfort of speaking their first language to have you around. Are you not confident about your accent? Well, think about it as an ice breaker because you will notice that the question “where is your accent is coming from?” is a classic pickup line. So, own it!

There is a metaphor I really like: it is called “Peach People vs Coconut People.” You can look it up for more details, but briefly, it defines certain people as “peach people” and others  as “coconut people”. Peach people are easy to approach, love small talk, yet they still have the core that they will only share with their core group of friends or significant others (this does not mean that you will never be a part of it). Coconut people are the opposite, with an annoyed resting face; but once you get to know them, they are ready to tell you about their aunt’s new boyfriend or why they chose a particular medicine. Just remember that people will be different, and keep this in mind to understand different reactions when approaching others and getting to know them.

Obviously, it is easier to connect with other expats. You will receive plenty of e-mails from Tufts International Center about upcoming events – attend them. If you want to bond with people from your country, find their communities and show up at their gatherings. But please remember that balance is the key. Keep your conversations and friend groups diverse. Of course you will feel homesick and will need your own people, but try not to call home every time you find yourself in this situation. Actually, you know what? You will soon realize that you see home in a different light. It will take time, but once you get there home will not be “where your heart is,” but instead might be where you can connect to the VPN.

Last but not least, know what you like to do and keep doing more of it. Pursue your hobbies and find others who share the similar interests. If you like scuba diving, become a member of New England Divers. If you enjoy photography, go take a course about it and meet others who enjoy it too. Do you need people to hike together? Just invite them and get to know each other during the hike while there is no distraction except the nature.

Do not forget that flux has no season in a diverse and international city like Boston. People come and go all the time. They all feel like a fish out of water at the beginning. Everybody needs friends and there is not a “more normal” thing than the desire of being a part of a community. Just be yourself, show up and bring your beautiful unique accent and slightly broken English with you wherever you go! 

In Search of Boston’s Most Underrated Museums

Written by Ruaidhri Crofton, History & Museum Studies M.A. 2020

It is no secret that Boston is home to a wide array of museums and historic sites that play an important role in both entertaining and educating hundreds of visitors annually, while simultaneously preserving some of the most important aspects of local history and culture. Some, like the Museum of Fine Arts, the Old North Church, and the USS Constitution, are so iconic that you can hardly say you have been to Boston without visiting them. However, the greater Boston area is also home to a number of “underrated” museums that play just as important a role in the communities they serve, despite their relative lack of widespread fame.

As someone who is (perhaps overly) enthusiastic about museums and the stories they tell, I am always looking for new places to visit and have thus had the opportunity to explore many of these often-overlooked sites. Not only have they proven to be incredibly informative and engaging, I have often found many of them to be even more impressive than some of their larger counterparts. Though difficult, I have picked out a few of my favorites to highlight just how varied and impressive some of these “underrated” museums can be. I hope that they will help to provide some inspiration for your own future adventures around Tufts and prove to be just as enjoyable for you as they were for me!

Harvard Semitic Museum

Situated just across the street from the popular Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Harvard Semitic Museum’s collection contains more than 40,000 objects from the Near East, including Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Tunisia. Visitors can view Egyptian canopic jars, mummies, Mesopotamian art, reconstructions of ancient Israeli homes, and much more for free!

The Mary Baker Eddy Library

Located within the Christian Science Center in the Back Bay, the Mary Baker Eddy Library is a research library, museum, and repository for the papers of the founder of The Church of Christ, Scientist. However, perhaps the most iconic exhibit housed within the museum is the stunning “Mapparium,” a three-story stained glass globe. Visitors can walk through the center of the globe on a 30-foot long bridge and view the world as it appeared in 1935.

Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation

Want to learn more about the history of medicine in the United States? What better place to do it than at the Russell Museum located on the Boston campus of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)! In addition to viewing historic surgical instruments and engaging with interactive displays, make sure to check out the Ether Dome located within the hospital itself where the first successful public surgery using ether as an anesthetic was performed.

Museum of African American History & The Black Heritage Trail

Nearly everyone who visits Boston spends at least part of their visit walking the Freedom Trail. But did you know there’s a second historic walking trail downtown focusing on a different aspect of the “fight for freedom” in the United States? Boston’s Black Heritage Trail takes visitors through the streets of Beacon Hill to view the homes of prominent abolitionists, stops on the Underground Railway, and more. At the end of the trail is the African Meeting House, the oldest black church in the United States, and the Museum of African American History featuring rotating exhibits on the African American community in Boston.

Armenian Museum of America

Home to the third-largest Armenian population in the United States, the Boston suburb of Watertown is also home to perhaps one of my favorite museums, the Armenian Museum of America. Featuring exhibits on the rich history and culture of Armenia and Armenian-Americans, visitors can learn about everything from ancient metalwork and textiles to the 1916 Armenian genocide. The museum is also actively engaged in programming for the community by featuring regular concerts, art programs, and lectures.

USS Cassin Young

Berthed in the shadow of the famous USS Constitution, the oldest actively commissioned naval vessel in the world, the USS Cassin Young (DD-793) is a unique museum tasked with preserving a different era of United States naval history. Named for Captain Cassin Young, a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Cassin Young was commissioned in 1943 and served in both World War II and the Korean War before it was decommissioned in 1960. Today, the museum is run by the National Park Service and allows visitors to catch a glimpse of life onboard a more modern naval vessel.

 Vilna Shul

Originally a synagogue built in 1919 by Jewish immigrants from Lithuania who settled on Beacon Hill, the Vilna Shul has been an important center for Jewish culture for nearly a century. Today, it is the oldest Jewish building in Boston and continues to serve in its role as a cultural and community center, in addition to being a museum featuring exhibits focused on the history of the Jewish community in Boston and a historic building itself.

Reflections of an International Student

Written by Manisha Raghavan, Bioengineering M.S. 2019

I made a vital journey over 12,239 kms (or should I say 7,605 miles) to get to where I am today. I moved to Boston on the 24th of August 2018, leaving everything that was close to my heart back in Mumbai, India. I knew I wanted to pursue a graduate degree in Biomedical Engineering ever since I was in college. But no matter how far ahead you plan your life, when it comes to crossing the bridge, there is always going to be a tingling sensation in the body. Now that it has been over a year in Boston, I wanted to chronicle my experience in this foreign land from my perspective.

From changing the way I read temperature, write down dates, and measure distances, almost every subtle change made me feel uncomfortable in the first few weeks. New faces, new relationships, new friends, and new challenges are few of the facets of life at grad school. More often than not, if you are an international student, people will ask you ‘Why did you choose Tufts?’ To be honest, I chose Tufts because my program curriculum matched my interests, and being in Boston as a biomedical engineer felt like the best decision in terms of my career. I was more excited than nervous coming here because I felt like I was doing something monumental with my life. I am sure each one of you incoming and current grad students feel the same way!

But my transition was not easy. Small events like buying groceries, doing laundry, paying bills, cleaning the house, and cooking for myself made me miss my family back home and I ended up realizing their value and how little I had appreciated the things I was provided with at home. But sooner or later, I had to reconcile with the fact that I was a responsible and independent woman who chose to move to the US.

As an international student, there were moments when I did crave the company of fellow Indians, or good Indian food. These normal feelings will happen to you as well, but do not let that stop you from learning about other cultures and exploring other cuisines. I wanted to make the best of my time over here, and I ended up signing for all the professional development workshops, seminars and talks that I could. One issue I faced was that I hesitated to ask for help because I was afraid of bothering people. Do not make the same mistake that I did! All  of the organizations at Tufts are super helpful and if they are unable to help you, they will direct you to the right person. Winter was challenging, but I survived,  and so will you if this is your first Boston winter. Above all, over the last year I learned to appreciate myself, my people, and the little things around me so much more.

I will leave you with a few things if you are heading to Tufts for grad school. Talk, connect, and socialize whilst taking care of your priorities. Explore and travel as much as you can. Be excited about crafting your own path and journey. But most importantly, take care of yourself! I still have a year to go before graduation and with every passing day I know I am going to miss this beautiful place even more.