As I looked out of the airplane window approaching the US coast for the first time, I felt my skin tingling, my heart fluttering, my breath barely escaping my lips – but not from excitement. In the moment, I wasn’t sure if that was exhaustion from the 38-hour journey, anxiety about the plane landing, or just loneliness – being so far from my family for the first time in my life. Days passed before I realized that what I felt then was the fear setting in, and that this physical “fear-sickness” would stay with me for a long time.

I came to the US with an excellent command of English, and yet, I couldn’t help but wonder: will I understand others? Will others understand me? Will they get to know me as the funny, intelligent, caring human that I am, or will they judge my intelligence and personality based on my accent and limited vocabulary? As I navigated communications in this new, unfamiliar environment, I was losing my voice – and with it – I was losing myself. 

What I felt then – and what I felt for many years after that every time I spoke – is a familiar experience for many college students. Isolation, fear, loss of self-esteem, loneliness – these are just some emotions that students from non-traditional, non-majority backgrounds experience as they negotiate their identities on college campuses. Regardless of cultural, racial, ethnic, or social backgrounds, as we enter new academic and professional environments, we are bound to feel our otherness – at some point questioning what has become of our voices and our integral selves. It is then that we search for new ways of self expression, attempting to once again be heard and recognized. 

The process of rediscovering this new identity and reestablishing one’s assertiveness – and with it, one’s authentic self – can often be a confusing, and yet, exciting process. I was lucky to have quickly entered a highly professional and demanding environment that forced me to take risks in my communication, guiding me towards once again establishing my voice and my identity. Similarly, Lehigh students are lucky to be able to express themselves in International Voices – a magazine and a student club that over the years has become a symphony of voices, a celebration of rediscovered identities, and a symbol of the diverse creativity and self-expression of the Lehigh community. 

As Lehigh University strives towards creating a “caring community deeply committed to harmonious cultural diversity” (LU DE&I Strategic Plan, 2021), International Voices reaches far beyond students to provide a platform to heal, to dream, to discover, and to celebrate. As such, International Voices is no longer just a student magazine; rather, it has evolved into a support system – almost a family – where every voice is heard and welcomed. Year-round events that the club holds regularly not only encourage creativity, but also create a safe space for an intercultural dialogue – a space where a myriad of voices join together to uplift and empower. 

As I look back at my 20-year old self traveling to America for the first time, I no longer see fear and confusion. Instead, I see strength and courage – the same strength and courage that International Voices’ authors manifest through their art, poems, stories, and photos. It is this courage to explore, experiment, create, and share that empowers the readers to reflect on their own identities and to open their hearts and minds to this symphony of voices.

Elena Reiss, Assistant Director, Office of Fellowship Advising and UN Partnership