“Hey, do you want to have lunch in the flag lounge?”
“Where is the South Asian expo? — In the flag lounge!”
These are some very common things I heard at UR during my first year here. I’m not sure I even knew that “the flag lounge” was actually called Hirst Lounge, and until the flags were gone, no one else really did either.
Every person from the class of 2022, at least, has one picture with the myriad of flags that adorned Hirst Lounge, especially the international students. I remember when I first came to UR, my parents were fascinated by the vivid display of flags. I stepped in there and immediately proceeded to look for the Indian tricolor. It was a simple reassurance of my identity that helped me feel a little less anxious about spending the next four years halfway across the world from home.
Choosing to come to the University is a very tough decision for most international students to make. We don’t get to do any campus tours before we enroll, nor are most of us used to the blistering cold here. Despite all of this, we take a leap of faith and pack our lives in two suitcases to spend four years in an unfamiliar city in upstate New York. The flag lounge was something that calmed my nerves when I first came to this beautiful campus, and I know that it has done the same for students before and after me.
Now hear me out — I am not saying that UR doesn’t do anything for its international student population; it’s definitely one of the better schools when it comes to inclusivity and representation. I was pleasantly surprised to see a Bhangra performance on my second day here, and the subsequent myriad of South Asian events that helped keep my homesickness at bay. I also have to appreciate ISO’s prompt responses to any issues we might have (and even their incessant emails reminding us to fill out GLACIER tax forms — apparently this is the easiest way, but I strongly believe that the bar is low).
On the other hand, I can also get behind the almost nostalgic love that students have for the flags in the Hirst Lounge. They were the clearest symbols that represented the sheer variety of students we have on campus — I, for one, never imagined I would have friends from Egypt, Portugal, Israel, and Bosnia!
It’s sad to see the flags go, but at the same time I know that the international students will always come together to provide a support system whenever a crisis strikes. I am always grateful for the numerous Facebook groups and impact forms that pop up whenever anything even remotely discriminatory happens against international students (the ICE crisis during COVID-19, for instance). It’s also wonderful to have SA presidents that are so active on the international student front. I know it isn’t the best situation, but I’m sure we can get through anything if we always support each other — and one day we will get those beautiful flags back!