Befriending Americans

pexels-photo-largeDear College Students of 2K16

                                           Befriend your international classmates

It was a rainy day last week when I rushed into the shelter of our crowded Student Union. With a thirty minute gap for lunch and an exam following thereafter I had just come for a quick bite and a chance to dry off. Or so I thought.

Always self-conscious of my hair’s response to a cool drizzle, I quickly scanned the room for an empty spot. #selfconscious

I found a sophomore from Japan sitting alone sipping a warm beverage–probably a creamy late because our school coffee is not the greatest. She smiled as I approached her so I took the liberty of setting down my bag and engaging in small talk. When I learned she was not meeting anyone or leaving anytime soon, I left to order my food and returned to share some fries and carrots with her.

Food has a way of breaking the awkwardness of intentional conversation. #foodie

I asked how she was doing, inquired about her sister, who is studying abroad, and sliced my grilled chicken into bite-sized pieces. As she responded I took notice of the excitement in her face that we were talking. After sometime when there was a lull in the conversation and I found more interest in finishing my lemonade than engaging in conversation she turned from her computer and said,

“Julia, how do you think international students can make friends with Americans?”

I hesitated before answering because I needed to asses her inquiry. She was a bright student from Japan with a solid group of friends, a Major she enjoyed, and a comfortable English speaking ability. She had even previously said, “Do you notice that my English is improving a lot?” Then why was she asking me something she could most definitely figure out on her own?

The answer, I already knew for I have many international friends and most of them experience the same thing when it comes to befriending American students.

I told her it was important to first understand American culture and how it differs from her own. And after we’d talked some more she asked yet another difficult question.

“Julia, how did you make friends with international students in your dormitory?”

This question was difficult because as a senior I don’t really spend enough time with the girls I live with. #guilty

But then again I do spend every waking moment applying for jobs and submitting articles.

I stared blankly for a while reaching back into the pockets of my memory to recall my sophomore year, the leadership positions I held on campus,  the influence I had simply by being readily available to anyone no matter their age, race, national orientation, or gender.

So I told her about being a minority and how minorities notice one another and are sometimes drawn to each other. As I talked I began to realize that my skin color determines who I befriend and who will seek me out, before I do.

What I observed in talking with this girl from Japan is something I feel a lot of international students struggled with on University campuses in the United States. While in some cultures, newfound friends are friends for life, in American culture life-long friendships develop over a lifetime, and acquaintances are more commonly found in the moment.

So, my challenge is to get to know your international classmates not only because they are a long ways away from home but also because their country allowed them to come and our country allowed them to be received in hopes to better understand each other and bring peace.

To overcome cultural tensions and misunderstandings, is it not crucial to perceive the significance of differences? For is it not the differences that cause two cultures, societies or nations to collide?

#foodforthought

 

 

Can I touch your hair?

6342697679_0b5b87b314_o

Have you ever seen a girl, or a guy, with curly hair and had the impulse to reach out and take a fist full of it?

Yeah I know, we all do. It’s a child-like response to something interesting.  But as an adult shouldn’t we be culturally aware of the human bubble? You know, the invisible bubble around your body that people know better than to pop. 

#personalspace

On the topic of hair, m y recent post, Why I Don’t Wear Braids, inspired me to continue the conversation regarding elements of beauty in conjunction with racial identity.

#storytime

My close friend from Rwanda just recently went natural. In other words she cut off her permed straight hair and now has a TWA (Tinnie Winney Afro). Her new due is adorable and works with any snapback or beanie she owns.

One day, before church, a group of us were waiting for our ride when one of our white friends came over and placed her palm on my friend’s head—to feel the soft freshly combed hair.

“Don’t touch it!” my friend squealed pulling away quickly. “It took me thirty minutes to get it like this.”

While the white girl laughed playfully, I could see the self-conscious anxiety in my friend’s face. She gave me a look that said “You don’t just touch someone’s hair.”

#DamnRight

Could I blame the white girl? It is actually quite common among some girls to touch each other’s straight hair. As kids, during movies or sleepovers, my friends always asked, “Can I play with your hair?” It should be noted that I did not grow up with a lot of black people and apparently  neither did this white girl.

As we continued waiting for the church van to arrive, another white girl appeared.

“Did you cut your hair?” she asked my friend. “It’s so cute!” With that, another oily hand put a dent in her fro.

Why don’t black girls like when you touch their hair? Aren’t you complimenting them in noticing their beauty? Aren’t they just being overly sensitive? I mean, come on, there’s no harm in complimenting someone’s natural beauty.

Some would beg to differ.

The responses to having one’s hair touched involve more than the encroachment on one’s bubble.  The experience is the impact of a microaggression accompanied by feelings of dehumanization, and unrepresented beauty in society’s media.

The importance of not touching a black girls hair relates to the historical components of black women in America. Born into a society where their kind have been victims of objectification, and dehumanization for decades, black women are faced with daily reminders that they are unrepresented and degraded in everyday life.

The unknown and often unrecognized aspects of black women conjures curiosity  in white people about hair texture and skin color. These inquiries such as, “You moisturize a lot. Do you just have really dry skin?” or “You hair is so pretty can you show me how to make mine do that?” categorize black women as objects of interest.

In her article on the 8 justifications of touching a black woman’s hair, Maisha Z. Johnson says the texture of black hair is interesting to white people because it is unrepresented in pop culture.”I understand the curiosity. But do you know why you’re so curious? It’s because the texture of my 4C hair is often invisible in mainstream society.”

 Telling a black girl that her hair is so cool or interesting and running your hands through it reminds her that her beauty goes unrecognized.

Hopefully anyone guilty of touching a black girl’s hair doesn’t receive my approach negatively.  I’m not trying to shame, rather to educated and inform so that the infringement on someone’s personal space is avoided. If you’re curious, then do some research. Just think about it; would you mind a strangers hands running through your hair, or would you too feel dehumanized?

Leave a comment below if you’ve experienced someone touching your hair.

#ShareYourExperience

 

 

 

Studying Abroad While Black

man-person-school-head-large.jpg

Does race impact a study abroad experience?

It depends where you go . . . but in short, Yes.

My marketing class this term requires a semester-long project designing a marketing plan. Our mission is to market different study abroad programs to business students at Taylor.

Many of you know I spent last spring in England for what seemed like the longest semester of my life.

Despite the homesickness I endured for those long five months, I’m reminded daily of my amazing time there, especially when Facebook displays those a-year-ago-today photos.

It’s a little scary when social media starts telling me what to post.

#mindcontrol

Anyway, this week’s marketing assignment involved loads of meticulous research. And oddly enough, I found a surprising number of articles concerning the study abroad experience of African Americans.

Frankly, studying abroad while black is different than while white, at least in Europe.

My experience with British locals and other internationals was ever and always humorous, as they often assumed my skin color was an indication that I immigrated from somewhere other than the US.

My friend Charnell, who is also black, studied abroad with me. Charnell is a fabulous writer who has a million hidden talents and the poetry skills of a literary master. Find her work here. The time she and I spent together was when I noticed my blackness the most.

Example #1

Our conversations with strangers usually went like this:

Charnell: Julia and I are from Indiana,

Stranger: Oh, India! Which part?

Me: No, we’re Americans from the US.

Stranger: Oh, but aren’t you African?

Charnell: Well, we’re African American.

Stranger: Which part of Africa did you come from?

#confused

Yes, confusion happened but it was always hilarious.

Example #2

Sometimes Charnell and I were mistaken for siblings. During our tour of campus the first week of school two girls from Bahrain asked if we were sisters. I had to smile, because my hair compared to Charnell’s is indication enough that we are indeed not related.

Whether I was mistaken for an English Language Learner, or as a native to some African country I’d never heard of, my skin color shaped my experience abroad in ways I didn’t expect. But at the same time, it allowed me to notice things about British culture unapparent to everyone else, such as the astounding number of biracial couples or the oddity of black people speaking British English.

#doubletake

But some social norms mirrored the US, like the way African students were drawn to Charnell and me, blacks and other students of color. I must admit, my blackness wasn’t as evident as it is in a small-town Christian university, but now and then something would happen to renew my consciousness. Like the question that takes everyone by surprise. “Wait! Your mother is white?” That always throw them for a loop. 

As I continue researching and composing this marketing plan I hope to inform potential study abroad students of the impact one’s race can have on the experience he or she finds in another country.

Have you been black while abroad? Share your story below.