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.

An Alien’s Perspective: Getting things right the first time

Thanks to you, I’m back by popular demand. It’s been a good winter for me, given that I got to visit my family for a short while. The semester’s begun and while for many of you it means resuming classes at Wichita State, I realize for some of you, it is your first time at WSU. I dedicate this column to letting you know the few things I learned about WSU after just coming here.

Basketball’s big: A lot of countries aren’t able to support a sports program that can get larger than life. Coming to WSU, I knew it supported a good athletic program. What I didn’t realize was how big basketball is at WSU. As a student, you can easily procure tickets for free from the University. Even if you haven’t watched basketball ever before, make sure you get the tickets in advance and attend the games. Your college schedule will get the better of you before you know it, and attending the games is a crucial bit of the student experience at WSU.

The food is terrible: If you’re new and haven’t heard of the phrase, “freshman fifteen,” you soon will. Very shortly, you will realize that the food served on campus is terrible for you. The protein content is lower than one would like, while the fat and sodium levels go through the roof. In a paranoid world run by a paranoid me, I would arrest you on grounds of being suicidal for eating the food on campus.

If you’re living in the dorms, there’s a shuttle service that goes to Dillons and Wal-Mart frequently. Get your own groceries and start cooking your own healthy food. Don’t make excuses for yourself by saying you have no experience in cooking. The solution to that is simple: watch YouTube videos and grab a copy of The Sunflower on Thursdays.

What’s the worst that could happen? You might end up burning down the dorms. At least you’ll look fabulous from eating healthier when you’re running out of the burning building.

An Alien's Perspective - Welcome Spring 2014

Time management: The education system in the country I come from is different in several ways than the system at WSU. Everyone back home shared the same timetable. We had classes at the same time and went to bed at the same time. So when I came here, I realized that I was inferior at time management. Don’t let that happen to you, and make sure you plan your schedule well in advance and stick to it. It’s one of your most valuable assets.

It’s good to be back, and I wish you the best in your endeavors this semester.

Imperial units suck!

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An Alien’s Perspective: Rant about the Imperial system

Before I came out here, I was told never to convert the prices to Indian Rupees when I was shopping, or I would starve myself to death. Why that would be the case can be hard to perceive at times. But here is a simple example of what converting prices can do to you. The price tag on the crewneck tee said it was worth $14. That converts to ₹700 roughly. I could buy 6 crewneck tees at that price! I decided I was going to be a nudist instead. Why I am not allowed to go to the mall is self explanatory now, isn’t it?

Anyway, talking about conversion brings me to something I am constantly annoyed by. Why is there a difference in standards of measurements in the U.S. and why has noone been successful in doing something about it yet?

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Having wasted twenty-two minutes just converting units to make my calculations simpler, I can not help but wonder if this is all a grand plot devised to ruin my peace of mind. Understanding physics with imperial units feels like trying to perceive the dimensions of the subject in a neo-cubist painting.

Why is Stone a unit that weighs fourteen pounds, when every stone I have encountered weighs only a fraction of a pound? The last time I checked, a slug was that slimy mollusc I saw crawling on a stone leaving a trail that led to the football field.

I find it ironic that the U.K. has adopted the Metric system, while the U.S. still clings on to the sloppy, impractical Imperial system. Did you know that of the 206 sovereign states in the world, only Myanmar, Liberia and the U.S. use the imperial system?

Infuriated by this gross impudence, I realize I have been scribbling uncontrollably all over my Physics assignment. The alarm goes off. I head to my English class, hoping that not having to deal with feet, inches, furlongs or the unfathomable slug will help me cool off.

My English professor walks in and hands out our assignments. Ninety-one percent on a paper I wrote at 3 a.m. is a score I could live with. I smile. My hyperventilation seems to gradually subside.

“Where did you lose points on your assignment,” the girl sitting next to me asks.

“I don’t really know,” I say, scanning through my paper until I notice that I have been penalized for spelling realization as ‘realisation’.

And that is the true story of how I ended up in anger management.

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.

An Alien’s Perspective: The Honeymoon Phase

The very first phase I went through after arriving in Wichita was the Honeymoon phase. Everything about this city that I would get used to seemed amazing at first.

I arrived late at night due to heavy snow, and I honestly enjoyed the delay.

I woke up late the next morning. Looking at my watch I realized that I had missed the orientation session. In school, and especially one as strict as the one I went to, missing the orientation would have meant that elaborate punishments were headed my way. I remember being “kicked out” of the dorms and being asked to live on the roof of the building for a fortnight for doing something quite similar.

However, I did not have to worry about that anymore. I was in college now. I was in a new city, a new country, and in fact a new continent. I had not a care in the world. College had not started yet, I had no homework that needed to be done and honestly, the change in scenery was all I needed. Life felt like a fresh canvas, and I could start painting again. I would not make any mistakes this time.

Leaving for the bank to set up an account and figure out how to pay my fees, I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of flatness, and even seemed to induce agoraphobic panic attacks. Starting to hyperventilate, I realized the freshness in the air. Being a smaller town, while most people seem to complain about the fact that Wichita is too laid back, I loved just that about it.

I loved the newfound freedom, the fact that all of a sudden, people seemed to understand what please, sorry and thank you meant, and the fact that overnight, most problems were only first world problems. There were no traffic jams or too many buses taking up the roads. I could be anywhere in the city within a matter of just 20 minutes.

But it was also a strange place. It was perpetually cold, the sun behaved weird and funny, and wasn’t it supposed to set in the opposite direction?

The campus was friendlier than I had imagined. I did not encounter any sort of discrimination. The horror stories about the issues international students I had heard were rendered as mere myths. All of a sudden, my world was a myriad of new faces, names, and cultures.

I had no clue what was to come my way. Luckily, I did not have to worry about it. At least not right then. I was a freshman enjoying his honeymoon. Sure, it was not Hawaii. But it was still a honeymoon.