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Voleak’s First Year in the U.S.

Voleak’s First Year in the U.S.

Voleak Phan, a rising sophomore at Beloit College, tells us about all of the places she got to visit during her first year in the U.S. 
My heart was thumping loudly when I landed at Newark International Airport in August 2019. All I could think was “I am here. I am finally here.” It was both thrilling and daunting. The United States was no longer just a farfetched dream of a high school graduate from the rural part of Siem Reap – it was my reality. Before I knew it, I had finished my first year at Beloit. It was an eventful year full of traveling and adventures. 
I’ll start from the beginning. I landed at the airport and was rushed into the warm embrace of my mentors Julie and Carly. We had only seen each other through video calls so it was nice to finally meet them in person. I felt the warm sun on my face and the breeze from the Jersey Shore while I stayed with my mentor Julie. 
On one of my first days, Julie and I took a walk along the boardwalk and got ice cream. Later, Carly took me to see the pinball machines and we played some games along the beach.
Then it was time to go to New York. I had only seen Times Square and the Brooklyn Bridge in movies and I finally got to see them in person. We had lunch at the Mercer Company with nearly all my mentors and their colleagues. They all gave me great advice and wished me good luck. 

My mentor Julie and me in Times Square

While I was in New York, my mentors made sure to take me to all the famous attractions. I got to take the subway and experience commuting to work. My mentor Wendy and her brother took me to see a baseball game at Citifield Stadium where I may have been converted into a Mets fan. My mentors took me to see two Broadway shows: Lorna and her daughter brought me to Come From Away and I went to Oklahoma with Julie. My mentor Rob took me to the Empire State Building and Virtual World, a virtual reality gaming room. Carly took me to the New York Public Library and the impressive Guggenheim Museum. My mentor Sarah took me to see the famous Statue of Liberty. 
It was a special and wholesome experience to be able to bond and connect with all of my six mentors before school started. They really made sure I was exposed to American culture as much as possible. I felt so lucky and grateful to be able to learn from them and have this cultural immersion before I started school. 
After New York, it was time to go to the most significant destination of all: Beloit, Wisconsin. At first, college was scary, especially after taking a gap year. I was afraid and anxious that I wouldn’t be able to do well. Turns out, my fears were preposterous.  I met professors and classmates who were both inspiring and dedicated. I felt so supported and encouraged by the vibrant community and safe learning environment. My fears went away quickly. 

My first stocking

In the fall, I went to Washington, D.C. where I reunited with my former fifth grade teacher after ten years! I got to celebrate a Jewish tradition with her family. 

Then, I spent my first Thanksgiving in Chicago with a friend of Phidor, my SHE-CAN sister. I had my first Christmas celebration in Albany with my mentor Lorna’s family and received my first stocking. 

After Christmas, I continued my travels to San Francisco where I took part in a leadership training organized by SHE-CAN. I finally got to meet the rest of the SHE-CAN scholars and had an insightful experience learning about leadership. 
For my final trip of the year, I flew to Seattle where my mentor Sarah took me to see her office at Amazon. We also went on tours of the Garden of Glass, the Space Needle, and Pike Place Market. ​​​

Hanging out with my SHE-CAN sisters at Leadership Training

My first year at college ended satisfactorily despite the widespread pandemic that disrupted my second semester. I look forward to the many more snowy days at Beloit and adventures with my favorite people and new friends. To the people who made it all possible, thank you so much for an enriching first year in the States.