A Brit abroad: As my hair grows, so do I

Graphic by Jenny Park

During winter break of my first year of college, I chopped off all my hair.

A desire to embrace my natural hair and general unhappiness with its current state led me to a barber shop, and I haven’t looked back. I walked around with a short cut, wrapped my hair with scarves when it was an awkward length, left my hair to grow under my braids, and now, my hair is in a healthy puff on my head.

I see my journey of self-discovery at university much like my hair growth: slow, sometimes awkward, but always beautiful.

At my home university I was a social butterfly who enjoyed making the most of all opportunities. I experienced a lot of self-discovery and development, and my hair went through various style changes, from braids, to wigs, to a tiny afro puff.

I enjoyed the flexibility of my life. I was prepared to have a similar experience while studying abroad in the United States, but with fewer responsibilities. As the weeks went by, however, I quickly realized that integrating into a new school community can be difficult.

The first half of my first semester abroad at Pitzer College was a challenge. Juggling the complex feeling of homesickness while adapting to a new environment caused me to isolate myself and overthink. I was unaware that it was a problem, and I simply attributed the excessive hours I spent in my dorm to “unwinding.”

When I reached the midway point of the fall semester, I un-braided my hair and let it flow naturally, and like art that imitates life, my hair mimicked the adjustment period. My hair had grown tremendously, and I wasn’t so sure what to do with it. So, just as I did with my new environment, I had to learn to adapt.

One of the first differences I had noticed in the U.S. was the fast pace of work. While the material is sometimes simpler, the assignments are much more frequent than those in United Kingdom universities, instead resembling a more high school style of teaching. The first day I heard the words “quiz” and “test” I felt like I had been transported to the past.

The high school similarities don’t stop at the class content. Here, there are set times to eat, small classrooms and white and blackboards (I didn’t even know blackboards existed anymore). At times, being here feels like what I imagine boarding schools to be like — think St. Trinians but with guys and much better fashion.

This adjustment, however, has prompted significant growth in my learning. I am much more engaged in the small classroom setting and appreciate the conversations that professors facilitate in and out of the classroom.

The “college experience” at Pitzer is very different than my experience at University of Birmingham. Similarly to how I disliked my hair when it first started to grow out, I didn’t like how small Pitzer was — the intimate setting made me feel like a goldfish in a bowl. As someone who loves to be active and exposed to different things, this was disorienting at times.

Over time, however, I have grown to like the structure of the 5Cs. I have had classes at each of the five colleges and I’ve enjoyed meeting new students, while experiencing new teaching styles and environments.

Additionally, spending one year abroad as opposed to a semester has given me time to warm up to the differences in the college experience. My favorite time of the day is getting dinner in the dining hall and unwinding over food and good conversation with new people.

At this current stage in my hair growth journey, I’m focusing on learning how to care for, style and grow my hair. And much like my hair, during my year abroad, I am experiencing the same feelings of adaptation and development.

Being away from home is not always easy — you essentially have to create a new normal for yourself. But much like growing out your hair, you try different things and alter what doesn’t work. Ultimately, you strive to stay committed to embracing yourself and your environment, while looking forward to and enjoying the journey of self-growth.

Itunu Abolarinwa is a writer passionate about creating content that challenges thoughts and initiates change. She is currently in her third year of study and is a political science and international relations student at the University of Birmingham, studying abroad at Pitzer College.

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