An Alien’s Perspective: Breaking ethnic barriers

Wichita State sees a great influx of international students, and for those of you who arrived in the U.S. and joined WSU this spring, you’re probably still in your honeymoon phase. Either that, or you are slowly starting to transition into the next few phases of being an international student in a new country.

And as you start getting used to the way of life here, you might be more aware of new issues bugging you, whether they are academic or social.

It isn’t uncommon for people to notice social groups that seem to be constructed predominantly of people who share a similar ethnic background. You may have noticed this, or might in fact have a friend group consisting only of people with the same cultural background as you.

It took me a while to notice this when I started out here. My first few roommates were from cultures very different from my Indian culture, and I was lucky enough to get to know a variety of people and ways of life.

So when I walked into certain places and realized immediately that I was clearly a visible minority, it would make me nervous about whether or not I was welcome at that place. There were certain times of specific days that I would avoid some of the common meeting places because I felt unwelcome.

It all went back to the first few times I went into the game room at Wheatshocker Apartments, and I was greeted by pin-drop silence and roughly 40 pairs of eyes on me. The tension in the air was so thick you could cut it like butter. In fact, that might be how I put on five extra pounds. Needless to say, this did no good for my self-confidence.

“Excuse me,” I squeaked as I took off.

It wasn’t until a few months later that I finally mustered the courage to speak to some of the people from the group and realized they were just as confused as I was. We laughed the whole matter off, and that was the end of one of the most awkward chapters of my stay out here.

It is easy to resort to making friends with people you have a lot in common with. And sometimes, this can mean making friends who share your ethnic or cultural background. As an international student, you have the opportunity to meet people and learn about different cultures.

Sure, you might not have much in common with others at first glance, but an awkward first conversation should hardly keep you from forming friendships that could last a lifetime.

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An Alien’s Perspective: Dating international students

Dating across cultural barriers can be exhilarating and honestly, quite unparallelled. The idea of dating someone exotic is a massive turn on. Much like the honeymoon effect, the differences between you are pronounced in a positive, exciting way. This can apply to everything from the texture of her skin to the fact that he measures distances in kilometers. However, like most relationships, the differences between you can create a lot of work.

One major issue of concern that I have noticed is religion. Coming from a country with a very strong religious background, I expected the amount of religious enthusiasm in the U.S. to be insignificant  by comparison. However, I have come to learn that though religious involvement may be different here, it is of no lesser magnitude. That being said, a mutual respect for religion and religious freedom is of utmost importance. Getting evangelistic if your partner follows a different religion is major mistake. Respecting your partner’s faith is a basic necessity.

First-date

The role culture plays in the relationship is not something to be undermined, and yet I notice culture being undermined all the time. If you are unfamiliar with your partner’s culture, assume you know nothing about it. In fact, a partial understanding of someone’s culture does not qualify you either. Just because I have a friend of a friend of a cousin who has travelled to France for a month, that does not make me an authority on French culture.

Something as simple as their choice in food can be difficult to understand. In a culture where the term “non-vegetarian” is rarely used, it can be difficult to understand your partner’s food choices if he or she is vegetarian, which can be both a religious and cultural choice. For cultures dominated by vegetarianism, even being in a restaurant that serves non-vegetarian food can be nauseating. It goes without saying that patience becomes far more than a virtue.

Another thing I can never stress on enough is that different acts, gestures and phrases have different implications across different cultures. If he is nervous about going to a public event with you, it does not mean he is ashamed of you. It just means he is mortified by the idea of being photographed and tagged on Facebook and receiving a call from home two hours later if dating is not common in his culture.

“Will my Dad force choke me over the phone or will it be my uncle,” my mind races desperately, “Or maybe I will just die of embarrassment when I try to swing dance,” I decide, consoling myself.

If you are considering dating someone from a different cultural background, go ahead. It may be the best you ever have. But tread carefully; tread respectfully.