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Sythong’s Experience at Syracuse University

Sythong’s Experience at Syracuse University

Scholar Sythong Run is a freshman at Syracuse University studying Public Health and Environment, Sustainability, and Policy. 
When I left for the U.S., I was nervous because I’ve never traveled such a long distance on my own. My family — my parents, my older sister and younger sister — came to the airport with me but no one knew what to say. We didn’t take a family photo or hug; we were all too stunned to remember to take a photo and physical contact has never been part of our love language.
I waved goodbye and the automatic glass door closed as I approached the check-in line. I asked around, read signs, followed the crowd, and boarded my flights. I watched Frozen 2, played games, and slept until I made it to my final destination. When I landed at New York’s JFK International Airport my heart started racing with excitement. But my excitement wasn’t enough to keep awake because I fell asleep as soon as I hopped into my mentor Elly’s car. We went to New Jersey where I did my quarantine. 
There, I spent most of my time sleeping, catching up with friends and family, attending my virtual high school graduation ceremony, and joining virtual orientation to prepare for my first semester and to go to campus. 

​Arriving on campus and seeing my roommate for the first time was one of the happiest times I’ve had since I got here. I was so glad Syracuse University allows students to do a roommate search and even provides a platform to ease the process.​


Me and my mentor Elly Wallace in front of the JFK airport. I was so excited and exhausted at the same time.

My roommate and I found each other on the class Facebook group four months before coming to campus. We couldn’t stop talking from there and we knew we had to become roommates.

I explored campus with my roommate the first day I got there and she snapped this photo.

I dropped off my bags, my roommate helped me pick up the packages my mentors had ordered for me, and we went to lunch. Later that day we walked around campus and located all the buildings where our classes would be held. And by the time we were done, we went and grabbed dinner. My first day of classes would start the next day.
I was nervous to log on to Zoom for my first class and was even more terrified that I was a minute late. I was scared that I would not be admitted to the virtual class, but none of that happened. My professor started by introducing himself and greeted all the students, and I breathed a sigh of relief. My first class was more relaxed than I thought, and one of my professors even dismissed students early so we could take the time to reflect on our first day and let it all sink in. My semester has, overall, been great but here are four ups and downs to summarize it:

Four downs:
1. People don’t get my name right.
I am sure this is a problem for any international student or anyone with a unique name, but I feel extra frustrated because I like to believe that my name is really easy to say —see tong; sounds like song. The spelling of my name (Sythong) also throws people off. Most people say my name as “sigh-thong” and I’ve gotten used to it, but it frustrates me when they don’t ask if they’ve said it correctly.

2. I didn’t know what to expect.
I wished that I was taught about all the platforms I needed to be familiar with to navigate life at Syracuse. It took me a while to figure out the system but I have a positive outlook on it: I would love to think that it will make me a great big sister for the next scholars to come. (SHE-CAN Note: Sythong will be welcoming scholar Pisey Kim in fall 2021!)

3. Making friends was extremely hard.
Making friends is always difficult and especially difficult during this time of the pandemic. I didn’t want to appear too friendly because everyone was supposed to be social-distancing and I wanted to keep myself and others safe.


I sat on the quad to work while waiting for my next class to start.

To make matters worse I couldn’t turn to the person next to me if I missed something the lecturer said because everyone was six feet apart! That was very frustrating but it forced me to build up the courage to ask my questions in class. 

4. Big time difference between the US and Cambodia.
The time difference between Syracuse and Cambodia is 11 hours; calling home has been extremely tricky. There were times when I really wanted to call home but couldn’t, because my family would be sleeping. There were also times when my family called me at the wrong time and woke me up very early, but that just means we talk about time zone differences during every call.

Four ups:
1. I’ve become wiser.

I’ve been reflecting on my life and making decisions for myself while growing into an adult at the age of 18. There were times when things were difficult and times I felt vulnerable; I am happy that I felt okay to discuss those feelings and seek the help I needed. This first semester I’ve for sure learned to take better care of myself and how to be an adult.​​


Posing in front of the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, my home college for public health

​​2. I have a few amazing friends and roommate.
Since the beginning of this semester my roommate has been my dearest friend. We do almost everything together because we want to minimize our contact with other people and keep each other safe. We even work at the dining hall together and take on similar shifts so we can go back to our room together and eat and chill after work. I also made two friends from my work at the dining hall and a friend from my major, and we would meet up to eat dinner every now and then. We always made sure we got tested before meeting up. I made four amazing friends this semester and couldn’t be happier.
3. I enjoy college.
This semester has been rough for many freshmen and I am incredibly glad that I enjoyed it despite the confusion and frustrations along the way. Some classes have been challenging but I enjoyed talking to my professors after class and discussing health and public health.
I also found that I am ready for more work and wanted to reconnect with my work in environment and conservation, so I decided to declare a second major in environment, sustainability, and policy. I can’t wait to embark on my spring semester. 

4. I was able to find on-campus employment.
I was really lucky to find and get an on campus job at a dining hall near my residence hall. I like working there and even though it was really tiring, I was able to make some friends and get to know the other staff. Moreover, working at the dining hall has made me more confident about meeting new people. 


Me eating my dinner during my break

Throughout my time here, people have repeatedly told me that I am so brave in coming here during such a chaotic time, but it would not be possible without the SHE-CAN team, my mentor team, my roommate, and the friends I made here. I owe my biggest thanks to them.