Ok. I don’t know about y’all, but going through college ain’t that easy when you are a culture minority. You feel as if you are repeating the same cultural information to people over and over–to the point where really, you should just print out a name tag or business card and call it a day. It would read something like this:
Hi. I’m Shrajeeta. Yes. I am American. My parents are from India.
Yes. I do speak Urdu. No, you cannot touch my hair.
Hi. I’m Eunjoo. I’m South Korean.
Yes, South Korean. Not North Korean.
Mine, unfortunately, would sound something like this:
Hi. I’m Batsheva. I am an Orthodox Jew.
I don’t touch men. Yes. I don’t touch men.
No, I am not treated like a second class citizen.
Any other ridiculous assumptions you’d like to make?
At some point, we’ve all been there– either being the ignorant person asking ignorant questions, or being the one people ask ignorant questions to. But because I’ve been there multiple times, I’ve put together a li’l survival guide for you, so that the next time you stumble upon one of those awesome cultural Situations, you’ll be 1% better prepared. Because who am I kidding, what do I know?
I. GRIN AND BEAR THE QUESTIONS
Honestly, it’s never going to stop. Think of college as a practice ground for Real Life. Out in Real Life, you will meet the same ignorant people, asking the same ignorant questions– they just all graduated college. And instead of rolling your eyes and preparing another sarcastic one word answer once again, think of this as a learning opportunity. They know nothing about your particular culture, so you are probably the first they have met of “your kind” so to speak. If so, why not make sure to leave a good impression on them of your culture, making sure to clear up some misconceptions along the way. As an Orthodox Jew, my favorite misconception to clear up is that we have arranged marriages. When people ask me if “my religion dictates that my parents arrange my marriage”, what I want to do is laugh in their face, shrieking ” HAVE YOU MET MY MOTHER?” Instead, I have learned to primly purse my lips into a polite smile, and laugh prettily, stating “Oh no no– we go out on dates ourselves. We may have matchmakers or friends who can facilitate suggestions, but it is always up to us who we choose to go out with”. I then feel better about myself for not chopping anyone’s head off. It’s a good tool to learn– how to remain polite when someone indirectly insults you.
Skirt– Tiny Shop In Jerusalem
Boots– Borne Concept
Necklace– My Grandmother
II. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO EXPLAIN ABOUT YOUR CULTURE
I’m sorry that your name isn’t Mary Jane, and you don’t have two long brown braids and a smattering of freckles on your nose. Actually I’m not sorry, because it would be really creepy if we all looked like Mary Jane. But yes! You have a different culture! Whether it’s because you are a Black American, a practicing Muslim, or you’re from Finland– you have such a rich heritage to share with the rest of us clueless people. Your culture is what makes you who you are, it gives you color, and breathes life and context into your personality. College is a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities, and there will be a time when someone will ask you why you are doing or dressing or eating a particular whatever. I’m telling you– it’s ok to explain. It’s ok to say that you can’t eat the dining hall meat because it isn’t Halal, it’s ok to say that you can’t shake his hand because as a practicing Jew, you don’t touch men. It’s ok to say that you are eating spicy sugar– it reminds you of home, back in Mexico, and would you like to try some? Explaining about your culture does not make you weird or different– it makes you unique, and interesting, and a confident human being who isn’t afraid to let people know who she really is.
III. DONT BE AFRAID TO REACH OUT TO PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT CULTURES.
I get it, it’s scary. It’s scary when English may not be your first language, or you grew up in a predominantly Black neighborhood, or you are like me, and 99.999999999% of the people you know are Jewish. You may just want to find the nearest person who thinks/acts/looks exactly like you and stick to them until your graduate. But that wouldn’t be any fun. I don’t think you are ever going to be as globally exposed as you will be in college. The amount of knowledge you can gain, just by talking to your classmates and dorm mates is astounding– it’s like its own class in international relations. Besides, how are you ever going to learn how to talk to people, or even learn to be tolerant of other cultures, if you don’t expose yourself to them?
IV. NEVER FORGET WHO YOU ARE
I can understand why it would be so easy to go by Stacey when your name is Shu Xin. And I get why it would be so easy to conveniently forget to tell people that you are a devout Catholic. and I really truly get it– projecting yourself as seemingly different from the significant norm is both scary, and uncomfortable. And in an age where evil pigs parading as humans think it is perfectly fine to stomp around Charlottesville, Virginia, condemning Jewish people–and other minorities– I can perfectly understand why you wouldn’t want to publicize just how different you are. But we can’t let these people win. Do you think for one minute that I will stop dressing modestly, that I will stop believing in G-d, that I will stop keeping kosher, because some pieces of filth who perchance know how to talk started waving some swastikas around? YAH CHARLOTTESVILLE? YOU THINK? That’s never going to happen. And this feeling should extend to college as well. College is a time for self experimentation, and self growth– for figuring out who you are. And whether you may not, down the line, want to define your self as a devout Catholic, or go by Shu Xin–it is a part of you that will never truly go away. So be proud. Because these aspects of your life have helped shape you into who you are today– and that is never something to be ashamed of.
Also, as a side note, college is expensive bruh. Which is why, if you’re a recent grad, a good option would be to look into a site like Earnest, which helps recent grads refinance their student loans. They can help consolidate your loans into monthly payments, and can even help lower your interest rates. Just saying. It’s there.****
*Photography by the lovely Yitta Fetman from You R Photography. She is a New York based Photographer who is so talented, and creative– please go and support her by checking out her Instagram! Also, she’s my friend, so yah.
What were/are your struggles in College?
Leave a comment below!