Afew days ago, one of my teachers described me to another faculty member as “sort of international.” That was the first time I had ever heard such a thing, and to be honest, I was confused.
I never thought there was a grey area when it came to a person’s status; either you are international or you are not. My teacher did not seem to think much of it, but this brief moment gave me a glimpse at how I, and possibly other international students, are perceived here at Harding.
For the readers who don’t know me, I’m a junior health sciences major from Freeport, Grand Bahama, which is an island in The Bahamas. I successfully jumped through all the hoops with the U.S. government to get here. The three years that I have been here have been great. However, during this time I have always had a concern of how Harding as a whole responds to international students.
By some unspoken standard, “real” international students are Asian, African or Hispanic. Granted, these international groups have a large presence on campus, but what about those of us from the Caribbean, Canada, Europe or anywhere in between? I can’t say how many times I have walked into the International Student office and had to reintroduce myself to the kind staff members. A friend of mine from Canada mentioned that they thought she was lost when she came in search of some assistance.
I would like to think this uncertainty about how international we are comes from what some people expect or assume about other cultures and countries. I once heard someone make the statement that a Jamaican student should not have been considered international because Jamaica’s culture was not any different from America’s. This statement is far from the truth of course, but it does represent a large misconception.
International is not synonymous with having a non-English native tongue, dressing differently or being constantly lost and confused about American customs. It means that we are not citizens of the country we currently reside in. If an American goes to The Bahamas, he or she is considered international because he or she is not a citizen of that country.
I guess some of us are only “sort of international” because we choose to assimilate into American culture in order to blend in as best as possible. I don’t speak with my native accent and dialect here because my first semester was full of people telling me how nice of an accent I had without actually paying attention to my words. I also had experiences with my roommate laughing at me because I sometimes used different phrases or pronounced words differently. As a freshman, I figured the best solution to avoid these occurrences was to be less different. As time has progressed, however, I have realized that being different is quite alright.
Whatever the case may be, as I continue to pursue my degree here at Harding, I guess I’ll have to add “stepping my international game up” to the list of things to do. I want to encourage my American colleagues — staff and students — to get to know the international students on campus better. Ask us about our cultures. We have a lot to share if you’re willing to listen. Keep in mind that your ideas about our ways of life may be wrong, but that is OK, because we are here to give you the first-hand experience of learning about someplace new.
In the meantime, while I wait to level up from being “sort of international,” I’ll continue to be fully Bahamian, fully human and fully proud of who I am.