Andrew Palczewski

“All About America”: China Soars, US Stalls in Study Abroad

by Andrew Palczewski - Posts (8). Posted Thursday, November 20th, 2014 at 9:53 am

Infographic - IIE Open Doors International Students 2014The latest post from VOA’s “All About America” blog looks at a recent report on study abroad trends – both students coming to, and going from, the United States. The “Open Doors” report from the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the Department of State has some interesting findings, including:

  • The number of foreign students studying abroad is growing at a faster rate than U.S. students studying abroad.
  • While nearly a third of students coming to the United States come from China, China is number five on the list of study abroad destinations for U.S. students – the top four countries are all in Europe.
  • Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil were the three countries with the biggest growth in students coming to the U.S. for study abroad. They’re also three countries where the government is providing resources and scholarships for students who wish to learn overseas.

Click here to read the full post, and find out more about the latest trends in studying abroad.

Andrew Palczewski

Coming to the US to Study? Numbers Show You’re Not Alone

by Andrew Palczewski - Posts (8). Posted Thursday, November 6th, 2014 at 10:13 am

StudentsTestAre you planning on coming to the United States to study? New data says you’ll be in good company, according to an article from the International Business Times.

The College Board, which administers the SAT – an exam many US colleges use as one of their admission criteria – saw a record number of foreign students taking the test this year. By their estimation, more than 300,000 foreign students from 175 different countries took the test this past year.

Not only are more foreign students taking these important tests – they’re also applying for student visas in record numbers, with the number of F-1 visas more than doubling within the past ten years, from 219,000 to 534,000.

Students Speak: “International Students in the US – Misconception vs. Reality”

by Guest Post - Posts (69). Posted Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 at 9:15 am

This week’s guest student post comes from Lei Wu, an international student studying at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Lei looks at some of the popular misconceptions international students – including himself – have about studying in the United States, and how these beliefs can be far from the truth:

10151228_736547403064436_1544862590954238472_nAs a Chinese student, I heard of a lot of things about the US from Chinese media before I came to America. Nevertheless, when I started my studying here, I found that a lot of things are different from that what I thought I knew. In my opinion, I feel that there are many misconceptions or stereotypes about the US, whether they come from foreign governments, movies, TV shows, or other channels.  I now see international students coming to the US may misunderstand the real “American style.” In this post, I’d like to pick up a few of these misconceptions and discuss them:


Misconception No. 1: US students don’t study hard or work hard:
This misconception is perhaps the most well-known among international students. Many think American students do not like studying, and that they only want to play sports or go to parties.

Perhaps some US students are not interested in learning, but there are a large number of American students who study very hard. At University of Nevada, Reno, I see many young American working on assignments in the library, designing experiment s in labs, working on problems in the classroom, or working overnight on important projects. So it is not fair that people judge American students as not studying hard – I’ve seen first-hand that they do.

I don’t know why this rumor has been spread so worldwide – maybe it’s how American students are portrayed in movies and television. One of my American friends told me that American usually like cozy and casual, so they may give foreigners an image that they are not caution and dedicated. But this doesn’t mean they can’t be serious and achieve success.


Misconception No. 2: American people are not smart:
First, we have to define “smart,” which isn’t easy. Some students are good at math, some of them are good at art, but can you say the former are smarter than the latter? I don’t think it’s possible.

I am the only international student in my class, so I study with American students every day. In my experience, they are no more or less intelligent than any foreign students. In class, I see my classmates spark excellent ideas all the time that I never come up with.

I talked about this misconception with other international students before. They thought that this view may come from grades – that, to some extent, international students may get better score than American ones. But, as some of my fellow international students noted, higher scores does not always mean smarter.

For example, one of my fellow international students said that he often got high grades on tests compared to his American classmates, because he already knew some of the material from middle and high school. But despite the grade difference, he’s found that the American students he’s worked with have better perspective and methods for projects than he does. The American education system is different from other countries; consequently, American and international students have their own advantages and own skill sets that make them good students. But that doesn’t mean one group is smarter than the other.


Misconception No. 3: US society is dangerous
: Personally, I think this misconception comes from American entertainment media. Movies, TV dramas, and even some American animation have created an interesting picture of US environment, full of violence, crimes, guns, drug, gangs, and so forth.

Indeed, these things may happen, however, they are very exaggerated.  For example, guns: there is a rough estimation that there are 233,000,000 guns in the US, but the ratio of gun crimes to guns is about 1:200,000, which means that the chance that you will encounter a gun crime is even lower than the chance of catching a cold.

Guns is just one of many examples. Generally, the US is a safe place. There is an infamous rumor that you do not want to walk down the street alone at night because you will be robbed or killed. When I arrived in US, I believed that. But some friends told me that it is a ridiculous thought – they often walk alone at night, they have never encountered any danger.

Of course, no country is absolutely secure, and crime and other incidents exist in every place all around the world. But the US media are so sophisticated, any negative event in the society is covered in detail and published around the world, causing people to think of the US as unsafe. As far as I am concerned, if you are careful and aware, you will avoid any danger.
These misconceptions are only the tip of the iceberg. But I hope they correct some common mistakes when thinking about the United States, and help show a better picture of how the US really is.

Andrew Palczewski

“Reflections from Mai Mano: Focus On That Which Matters”

by Andrew Palczewski - Posts (8). Posted Thursday, October 16th, 2014 at 10:11 am

RebeccaManoEducation USA is a great resource from the US Department of State for students looking to study abroad in the United States.

Among the information the site offers are blogs with tips about the study abroad process, from finding a school, to applying, to living and studying in the US.

Rebecca Mano, a country coordinator in Zimbabwe for Education USA, recently shared her advice on a host of questions from students preparing to study abroad in the United States. She looks at how to tackle applications, crafting a list of accomplishments, and responding to essay questions. But her overarching message for students? “Focus on what matters.” When you do, she says, everything will fall into place.

Students Speak: “Becoming a College Football Fan”

by Guest Post - Posts (69). Posted Thursday, October 9th, 2014 at 10:35 am

IMG_0016Students studying in the US can prepare for living in a different country, taking classes, and making new friends. But one thing that’s hard to prepare for is seeing college sports up close. When guest blogger Munyaradzi Mahiya came to the US from Zimbabwe to study at the University of California and Berkeley, he knew he wanted to experience an American college football game. The experience was better than he could have anticipated:

Coming to the United States, I knew that football was something that I wanted to experience and maybe understand a little more. This was strange for me – I have never been one to try new things out, so the fact that I was so excited about something I was so unfamiliar with freaked me out a little. I even researched how the sport is structured, and what to shout at what time (in my defense, I didn’t want to embarrass myself at my first game!).

After a whole week of anticipation, I couldn’t take it anymore, IMG_0017there was this atmosphere around campus that made everybody eager to be clad in blue and yellow on game day – the University of California (or Cal) colors. Game days here at Cal are those days when people lose themselves a little and party a little bit more than usual.

I attended my first football game ever in September 2014, and I must say, I was impressed not just by the game, but by all of the theatrics, from the band, to the cheerleaders, and above all, the more than 30,000 fans at the game. It was a huge victory for Cal, who beat Sacramento State by 55-14. Talk about getting introduced to something new by your school making you proud! I was definitely proud to shout Cal’s slogan, “This is bear territory!”

After the whole experience, all I can say is that it’s better to witness the game and experience being a football fan here in the USA than watching it on television. Now that I have seen a football game live, and got to scream, “TOUCHDOWN!” at the right moment, I have to go back to what I am used to: getting my butt kicked in that French class at 11am on Monday…

…that is, until next week’s game.

Andrew Palczewski

Michigan State University to New International Students: Know the Law

by Andrew Palczewski - Posts (8). Posted Monday, October 6th, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Waldo police departmentIn last week’s blog post, guest writer Gwen said it can take some adjusting to study abroad in the US.

An article from Michigan State University’s student newspaper reminds foreign students studying in the US that one important thing to adjust to is the rule of law. All students – regardless of country – must follow US, local, and school rules.

Read about some of the common regulations encountered by foreign students, from traffic rules (be careful making left turns!) to grabbing drinks with friends (make sure you’re 21, and be prepared to show ID), and remember: the easiest way to avoid breaking the law is knowing the laws in the first place.

Students Speak: “I Wasn’t Ready”

by Guest Post - Posts (69). Posted Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 at 12:15 pm

I Wasn't Ready

Worried about the start of school? You’re not alone.

Gwen Mugodi was too. A student from Zimbabwe studying at Brown University, Gwen had her own reservations about studying in the US, living up to expectations, and confronting challenges.

In our first student-submitted post on the new VOA Student Union blog, Gwen talks about preparing for – and facing – the first few weeks of college, and gives advice on what you too will face:

 

I remember applying to college as if it were yesterday.

The frantic panic to get all the supplements to the Common Application “perfect” before the January 1 due date: “Why our school? What can you add to the campus?” The efforts to make my seemingly mundane life into an original rendition of the “Life of Pi.”

Then the financial aid applications, and the long wait to hear back.

The nicely worded regrets that assure you, “It’s not you, it’s us”.

Then, finally, the acceptance. The joy that accompanies it. And for those who need it, hopefully the nice financial aid package that accompanies it.

The next months are a flurry of preparation: Immunizations. I20’s. Visas. Packing. Then, suddenly, you’re at the airport, and it’s at that moment when everything sinks in. All that application stress was all for this. You’re finally leaving home. Freedom!

But then sneaks in the doubt “What am I doing? This is crazy. Let’s just all go back home and pretend I ever thought of this.”

It’s been almost a month since I had my little “This is crazy” moment. In freshman-college years, a month is a really long time. Such a long time that, even after a month, I now feel old enough to be dishing out advice to “pre-froshies” (freshmen to be) and fellow college students in this blog post.

My first piece of advice: you won’t be ready.

No matter how great you are at planning, you simply won’t be ready. Take me for example. I took a gap year after high school.  I got to spend a lot of time with my family, strengthening bonds that would be tested by long distances and expensive phone calls. I also gained a lot of invaluable work experience and I would like to think a great deal of maturity. But when it came down to that departure moment, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. All the same, teary-eyed and all, I got on the plane.  And just like that, I was all on my own.

And that’s really what’s so different about college from anything you will probably have experienced. You start to make your own decisions. From the small –“Am I going to have three meals in a day to ensure I don’t wither into nothingness?” – to the bigger ones – “Is it really necessary that I party from Wednesday through to Saturday? Would I miss too much if I only partied Fridays and/or Saturdays?”

I also wasn’t ready to be a minority. I come from a predominantly black country – heck, a predominantly black continent. I never had to deal with being the “only African/black person” in a class. And initially, that was a lot to deal with. Questions of identity snuck into my head. “Do I represent Africa by virtue of coming from an African country? Does my not knowing the answer to ‘How many languages are spoken in Africa?’ make me ignorant? A disgrace?”

I wasn’t ready to have professors who treat me as equals, who are not offended when I challenge their ideas; professors who in fact encourage it.

See, I was told to expect this. In fact, as an intern at EducationUSA, I lauded the US education system for these same qualities, its diversity in the broadest definition of the word, its liberal learning and teaching methods. I was told there would be culture shock. And that feeling of being lost. I still wasn’t ready.

I guess the point of my post is this: you won’t be ready. But you’re not supposed to be ready. And once you embrace this, college transition goes a lot smoother.

And the best thing I’ve found about being a freshman is, you can bet you’re not the only one who is feeling that way. We are all dealing with issues of transitioning and independence and making new friends and simultaneously trying hard to look cool.

So in that moment, when the application process comes to the end and you finally start college, remember this: you won’t be ready. And no one else will be ready, either.

But take it from me – after you get through those first few weeks, you will be.

Andrew Palczewski

Searching for a School? This Graph Could Help

by Andrew Palczewski - Posts (8). Posted Monday, September 29th, 2014 at 9:29 am

USNews_09252014 US News and World Report is well-known in the United States for its annual rankings of the best colleges and universities in the country.

But some new information recently published by the news magazine focuses specifically on international students studying in the US, including which schools have the most international students, which schools give international students the most financial aid, and more.

Click on the thumbnail to view the full infograph, or read more on USNews.com.

Andrew Palczewski

Welcome Back to School…and to the New Student Union Blog!

by Andrew Palczewski - Posts (8). Posted Friday, September 26th, 2014 at 9:11 am

Philippe Cousteau Jr., Vanesa De La Cruz, Claudia Corahua, Carlos Riofrio, Joshua Carrera

As the new school year gets underway, we’re pleased and excited to announce the brand new VOA Student Union blog!

In addition to highlighting valuable information for students looking to study in the United States, we’ll be showcasing experience and advice from students who are currently studying or have studied in the US. If you’re interested in sharing your experiences and writing for the blog, email us at voastudentu@gmail.com.

Check back on Monday, September 29, for our first post – we’re looking forward to sharing all the information you’ll need about US study abroad!

Andrew Palczewski

Coming Soon: the New Student Union Blog!

by Andrew Palczewski - Posts (8). Posted Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 at 9:53 am

Voice of America is pleased to announce that we’re re-launching the Student Union blog! Check back in the next couple of weeks for brand new posts from students studying abroad in the United States.

We’re also looking for new contributors who want to share their stories. If you’re a student currently studying or working in the US, or if you studied or worked in the US in the past, you can write for the Student Union blog! Email VOAStudentU@gmail.com if you’re interested or if you’d like more information.

Andrew Palczewski

U.S. State Department Hosting Google+ Hangout on “The Benefits of Studying Abroad”

by Andrew Palczewski - Posts (8). Posted Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 at 2:56 pm

The U.S. Department of State is hosting two Google+ Hangout on the benefits of studying abroad. The hangout on Thursday, May 29 is geared specifically towards students looking to study abroad. The State Department’s full release is below:

Did you know that the U.S. Department of State offers scholarships for high school students to study abroad? Tune in to one of two State Department Google+ Hangouts to get advice and ask questions about international education and exchange programs.

The first Google+ Hangout, Thursday, May 22 at 3:15 p.m. EDT, is tailored to educators, including counselors and those with an interest in assisting students who may apply to study abroad. The second Hangout, Thursday, May 29 at 3:15 p.m. EDT, will help middle school and high school students learn what to expect from the study abroad experience. Both sessions will include educators and students who have benefitted from the study abroad scholarships.

Both events will be broadcast live from exchanges.state.gov/highschool. Questions can be submitted in advance via Facebook and Twitter using #GoAbroadWebinar and by tweeting at @ECAatState.

For further information, please contact the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at eca-press@state.gov.

Why Is It Hard To Make Western Friends?

by Doug Bernard - Posts (17). Posted Monday, February 24th, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Today’s post comes to us from Jemince, (or in Mandarin ‘如馨 贾’)  from Beijing, China. She was studying English Chinese translation in Beijing International Studies University for her Master’s Degree until she arrived at Binghamton University together several month ago. She’s currently majoring in Comparative Literature and studying law on her own so as to get her Bachelor’s Degree once she returns to China.

Today, she offers some thoughts on a question she recently asked herself: “Why Can’t Chinese Students Make Friends With Westerners? Some of her thoughts below.

 

Since there is a growing trend for Chinese students to study abroad, many youngsters start to live their lives completely differently from their families or friends in China. At the same time, the different life experience doubtlessly triggers the vast curiosity of those who intend to study or live abroad. But curiously, the opinions about living in foreign countries, especially western countries often come up with similarities such as: It is great to see the world and it definitely broadens your view and deepens your knowledge; Everything is great but I just cannot bear the loneliness, it is so hard to make friends and assimilate in their society; There is always a distance between me and those foreigners.

I was about to study in the US together with other three Chinese students from Beijing, and both the positive and negative sayings about the country and its people just made me so curious but meanwhile anxious about the unknown life that was approaching me. My questions were simple: Will I face the same problems in getting well with locals or other foreign people? Will I be lonely and have no friends to spend time with and finally die because of loneliness? Why did many Chinese feel so helpless in getting friends abroad?

With all the questions and the burning curiosity, I stepped my feet on the land of the US! It was late summer, everything looked just perfectly green and beautiful, and our semester hadn’t got on track yet, but unfortunately my other three Chinese group mates (housemates as well) and I almost spent the whole first month dwelling at our small house, which made me feel helplessly lonely and anxious about staying at home, because I didn’t know anyone here and none of my housemates or any of my Chinese friends would go to bars or any party with me. They seemed to have a natural fear of bars and were scared of going there, because in Chinese culture, there is no tradition or custom of going to bars or staying up night at parties. And in the eyes of many Chinese, drinking at bars and dancing with a lot of unknown people in a dim light at night somewhat indicates an unhealthy and lazy life. Meanwhile, due to the effect of some Hollywood movies, bars become shelters of drugs, easy sex or violence in their mind. Thus, Chinese were rarely seen in bars here.

Not caring about the traditional bias, I was desperate to experience the real American life including meeting a lot of new people and going to parties and bars. And luckily, a group of wonderful students who came from the US, Germany and other European countries finally ended my dull life and later on became my best friends. We enjoyed our weekends in going out, doing potlucks or visiting different bars and parties drinking, dancing and talking about our life, study, ambitions and all other interesting things.

On the contrary, when talking about how interesting and fun to enjoy weekends like this to my Chinese friends, I often received comments as: “I heard people use drugs there!” “There are many drunkerds, isn’t it dangerous?” “No…I’d better not go there.” “Oh, I can’t drink! It’s not healthy!” About going to bars, parties or other stuffs that I call as “outgoing activities”, Chinese students usually behave cautiously, shyly and conservatively, which is completely opposite from western students. Instead of hesitating, the westerners consider it as a tradition or a sort of must-do to go to noisy places, enjoy the relaxation of drinking, talking to friends and meeting new people. As in my case, after a week of exhausting study, my western friends would say: ”Oh, we need to relax!” and normally it led to a good drink somewhere in a bar or at a home party. But my Chinese friends would like to spend a whole weekend on watching movies at home or having a nice shopping with other Chinese.

And the reason of the differences might be: first of all, Chinese people are naturally more introverted. Places such as bars and parties are mainly for getting tipsy or drunk, relaxing, chatting and knowing new people, which is completely different from the Chinese way and would make them feel nervous and uneasy. Secondly, the communication among Chinese people is mostly very euphemistic, for example, the discussion about how to pay for a meal can go like this: “Maybe I pay for it?” “Uh, I don’t know, maybe we go dutch?” “I don’t know…Maybe?” And the discussion may last over ten minutes. Instead, westerners would ask directly: ”Hey guys, we’ll pay separately right?” “Yes.”

Apart from the differences of having “outgoing activities”, Chinese students have impressed a lot of westerners by the shyness. For example, in a party with my western friends, my Chinese friends usually stayed quiet and finally became very good listeners. And later, they would say: “OMG, I felt so nervous that everybody was so active, and I just looked at all you guys talking but had absolutely no idea about what to talk about!” “Your western friends are very nice, but I still feel there is a distance between us.”

Why so? The westerners also got very curious about why my Chinese friends weren’t talking with them or later on even totally stopped showing up. The reason might be the euphemism of Chinese nation again. If you have been to a Chinese party, you might find that Chinese often begin to know each without a word but a quiet smile, and it would take time to discover someone interesting by observing quietly and secretly. And if that goes well, there would be several rounds of slow and tentative conversations such as “Hi!” “Oh, is it your first time of being here?” “It’s cold outside…” and then they might start to penetrate in knowing names or other further information.

Obviously, the habit has successfully slowed down the speed of Chinese in making friends and made a party more like a meeting for introverts. But oppositely, westerners usually begin with direct self-introductions including their names and piles of questions, answers and laughter. And after a short communication, people would decide if they are really interested in each and want to continue the conversation. Such a difference between Chinese and westerners builds a natural barrier to the two people in getting to know each other.

Often Chinese think westerners are too blunt and fast in conversations and that makes them nervous. As a result, they would stay silent and enjoy listening to the words shooting among the westerners. And for westerners, Chinese are reacting way too slow and sometimes a bit weird, because they don’t have any idea that Chinese are actually slow in the regard. Anyways, I may describe the Chinese communication as a game of Tai Chi that takes both time and brain to discover, and western one as shooting a ball: direct and simple.

Apart from all the differences above, something bigger seemed to irk several of my western friends once. It was a home party for Chinese hotpot hosted by a Chinese girl who invited three of my German friends and I and about fifteen other Chinese students. And the weird thing was that there was almost no Chinese talking to the Germans or even me during the whole party, except a few that we had known for a long time.

My friends were so unhappy that all the Chinese seemed to enjoy the party closely but excluded them from their big group. It was really a bit embarrassing and hard to explain. But the reasons that I may come up with are firstly, Chinese are really kind hearted but sometimes very conservative in mingling with foreigners. Because in the eyes of a Chinese, foreigners are someone distinctively different and cannot be regarded as the same. Secondly, Chinese are rather modest in social communications, and rarely take steps first to approach others.

During the semester in the US, I found it rather interesting and challenging to discover the differences that hinder the communication between Chinese and western students. But while doing this, I do realize that it is almost impossible to list all the differences and reasons for we share completely different cultures and backgrounds. Furthermore, as a Chinese, I would recommend my fellows to be more daring and direct in social activities so as to make more friends and fully enjoy the life in the US.

Funding Your U.S. Study

by Doug Bernard - Posts (17). Posted Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 at 12:33 pm

As many have noted here in the Student Union, getting admitted to study as an international student at a U.S. university is only part of the battle. Just as important, and as challenging, can be finding the right mix of financial aid, loans and scholarships to actually be able to do it!

Let’s be frank: most American colleges and universities are expensive. This is true of both the large, state-run institutions like the University of Georgia as well as for the smaller and often more elite private schools like Ohio’s Kenyon College.

But challenges can be overcome, and every years tens of thousands of international students find a way to fund their study here. These are just a few tips and links to help in your search – but remember, it’s almost always true that one of the first stops you should make is with your school’s financial aid offices.

  • First, do your homework. Before you even go online and begin your search, you must get your own financial and scholastic records in order. That means academic transcripts, financial resources, estimated budgets and earnings and all manner of other annoying paperwork. In short: schools are going to want to know your grades and studies, how much you have and how much you’ll likely spend, so it’s best to do it first.
  • Consider cost before applying. Higher education costs vary greatly school to school, so when you’re thinking about what city you’d like to live in, and which school has the best program in your field, give some thought to its cost. As a general rule, large state-funded institutions cost a little less but have less money available for financial aid. While small, private schools can get costly, many times they provide more assistance. Also, some schools like to recruit international students because of all they add to a campus, so those schools are likely to make more money available to help out.
  • Try and save. This probably goes without saying, but any money you can save before arriving in the U.S. is going to help. That may be easier said than done, but one way might be to take a little time before actually coming to America. Many schools allow students to defer admittance for a year, and some take advantage of that by spending that year working and saving. Just an idea.
  • Research, research, research. Once you settle on a specific school and gain admittance, contact their financial aid office as soon as you can. (If you can’t find your school’s office, this website may be able to help.) Every American school has such an office to help students find scholarships, loans, government grants and even employment. In fact, most students fund their schooling with a mix of all of the above, as well as what money they have from work or their family. But remember: scholarships and grants don’t have to be repaid, but loans do, so don’t be too eager to load up on loans that may burden you for many years to come.

It can be hard, but there are many ways to fund your American education. Keep at it, talk to as many people as you can, and don’t give up. Below are just a few websites that can provide much more information as well:

 

The Personal Perks of Studying Abroad

by Guest Post - Posts (69). Posted Thursday, December 5th, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Todays post comes from Maria Torstad. Maria is from Norway, and is in Washington DC for one semester abroad. In this post, she shares her thoughts on what you can achieve while studying abroad, and her own personal experience on this subject. 

Studying abroad encompasses loads of perks; you get to develop your language, it looks good on your resume, you get to experience new places and you meet lots of future contacts. For me, however, there is one thing that has been more valuable than all of these; the people that I’ve met. Sounds like a cliché? Maybe so, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Coming to America and joining a highly international program at American University, I met people from all over the world; China, Germany, Colombia, South-Korea, France and Lebanon, and they became my friends. Even though I’ve been told all my life that it doesn’t matter where your from, the color of your skin and so on, it really didn’t hit me this hard until I had familiar faces to put on each country; We are all the same! We all make mistakes, we’re all sad, we’re all happy, we all get drunk and we all regret it the day after.

I personally think that in an ideal world, people would travel more and get to know other cultures and people, because the world needs a population that respects, and is more aware of, others than themselves. Of course, I understand that this is not possible for everyone, but if you have the opportunity, please take it. The best way to learn about yourself, is to get out of your comfort zone, and meeting other people.

I will take an example from my time in DC. One of the best friends I got here is a girl from Lebanon. Lebanon is a tiny Arab country that borders to Syria and Israel, and for a Norwegian girl like me, it doesn’t get further from my reality than that. Of course, being in the US the last couple of months, made it impossible not to know about Syria and the dark, dark times they’re facing. But Lebanon? I never really thought about Lebanon. Now, I love hearing her stories, and comparing our everyday life – even though I must admit it makes me feel both naive and on the limit of stupid sometimes. I can feel the injustice she must be feeling, when there is a car bomb going off, killing over 25 innocent people just because they’re political extremists, and because Lebanon have a unfortunate geographic location. The differences between our home countries are striking, and occur almost in any possible part of society. Yet, she speaks to and about her friends in the same way I do, and have the same kinds of everyday-problems that I have.

Now, the semester is coming to an end. Im going home to Norway, she’s going back to Lebanon. And I don’t want her to. I’ve had nightmares. I’m worried. I care!  And this is more or less what I’m trying to say here; it is so much easier to think twice about, and respect, other countries, when you have people you care about associated with them. And that is why it’s not only good for your language and career to study abroad; it’s also good for your understanding of the world. It opens your eyes, it opens your mind and I do believe that it can help you become a better person.

Understanding Other Cultures While Celebrating Your Own

by Doug Bernard - Posts (17). Posted Thursday, November 21st, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Today’s post is another powerful and personal story of cultural differences, and one person’s effort to bridge those differences, without losing your personal and cultural history. Sibusisiwe Mukwakwami is a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley. She’s looking forward to studying either economics or development studies, with a minor in human rights. She’s a native of Zimbabwe, and in 2013 won that nation’s National Black History Month essay competition.

Recently my friend invited me to her residential hall, which is an African-American themed hall. They have lots of meetings and outings there, so I thought it would be fun. On this particular day they were having a pancake breakfast, presumably just a time to mix and mingle. I was excited to be there, too.

I walked in at a time when the mini-party was at its peak. I found my friend; excited, we hugged and she led me to a sit in the back. We sat there for some time. I sensed some sort of discrimination. I wondered, were we just isolating ourselves or were we facing discrimination?

My friend’s breakfast came in first, and it was a plate full of color. My mouth watered. I have always liked rainbow dishes: they make me hungry. She let me pick pancakes and fruit; we ate and only then began to talk.

The black American contemporary music was at full blast. Some boys and girls were beating the tables and some guys on the stage were break dancing in what looked like a kind of competition. Locks and curls swirled the room. There was what I call African-American ginger – a strong feeling of united emancipation!

And yet in our corner, we felt isolated.

We talked about various subjects. Hair, boys , shoes and books. And bang! we got to it. “What do African Americans think of Africans?”

We argued.

I told her I thought African Americans were arrogant. Why did they sideline us? When we met in the corridors and our eyes met were they the ones who quickly looked aside before we greeted. Why? Weren’t we all black? I mean, wasn’t this exactly the reason why there was an African-American themed house to begin with?

Did they look down upon us because they grew up in America and we in Sub-Saharan Africa?. Oh yes, I felt this was it! They believed like it was often told that we were HIV-positive and that the giraffes were right behind our huts.

My friend blurted “No!” And then she continued:

“Sibu, I also thought so at one point but after living with these guys I got to a different conclusion altogether. These guys are not from Africa. They were not born there and may never have gone there. We can’t expect them to naturally  like us  or bond. We are different. Skin color is just that: skin color!”

I rejected this notion. They are black like us and they could not sideline us just because of our different accents. They were rejecting the Ubuntu Spirit; that togetherness and feeling of being warmly woven together as one.

“Culture is not in the skin Sibu!” she responded. “Culture is in places. Culture emanates from a place. Would you ever kneel and wash an elderly person’s hands here?” No, of course not, I replied. She continued:

“Yes, but wouldn’t that be remarkable back home? Wouldn’t your mum smile as you stood up from the stooping position? These black Americans have their culture. A culture which emanates from the American environment, where they were born. Whatever it is, we have no right to judge with our measuring stick from back home.”

I nodded. She went on, “Honestly you are being hard on them if you expect them to act like Africans when they perhaps never knew African soil.”

I thought myself a bigot. Yep! I had just been looking at this through my own lenses, and I hadn’t tried theirs. The temptation though was to then adapt their culture, to go kinky and afro. (In fact, I actually had dreadlocks on this day.)

Slowly, it came to me fully.

The temptation is to sing of Martin Luther King but forget Strive Masiyiwa. Of course, I often silently give thanks for Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks  and Frederick Douglass’ bravery, whenever I sit next to the white boys and girls on dining tables and on buses and especially recently when I read of Harriet Jacobs‘ life story in “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”.

Yet still, if not me, who then shall sing of Strive?

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