Being an international student, I had the honor to be a part of a group of people of different nationality, culture, family upbringing, major, religion, and personal interest. The fact Wartburg College has a small campus makes it even easier. Lunch and dinner conversations are always my favorite: everybody brings their own attributes to the table and because we have such different backgrounds.
One of my favorite conversations happened in Mensa was about wether an Indian friend of mine should be considered Asian. We went into great length to discuss what does it mean to be a part of that continent, is it just a place in which you’re born in? Is it the culture you grew up with? Is it the genetic traits you carry? Or is it even a combination of all of the above?
Which led me thinking, do I still count as a Chinese? I’ve been way from home since I was 15 years old. In the past 6 years, I’ve done my best to immerse myself in American culture: I’ve attempted Mac N Cheese multiple times(despite the fact I’m lactose intolerant); I’ve fell in love with Grey’s anatomy; I’ve witnessed two rounds of election; I’ve went on both hunting trip and youth religion camp; I’ve adapted to the use of OMG and LOL; I’ve been Americanized. I’ve grown into an adult in the American society and accepted it’s values. At this very moment, I might even be more fluent in English than I am Chinese. I’ve always prided myself as Chinese and I always will, but exactly how Chinese am I?
Who am I?
Every year, Wartburg takes a day off from classes to host RICE day. During this time students from all departments on campus are able to present and share their learning and research. As a student who needed to attend a certain number of these for other classes, I figured I might as well change it up a little bit and delve into the presentations of those students who have different majors than myself. I knew going into RICE day I wanted to find diversity among the projects and presentations. I started off that Tuesday morning visiting the fine arts and communications building. Walking into one of the art rooms, I was soon surrounded by paintings on all of the walls. I was stuck in a daze at how incredibly talented these students are while also being highly curious at the meanings behind each piece of art. Most of the people who created these beautiful pieces were people I did not recognize, this alone made me feel guilty enough as I wanted to meet them all and share how much I enjoyed their art. Diversity was crawling out of every part of that room. All of these students who created their own pieces I imagine have a story behind what they chose to paint about. Some might come from a time of happiness and positive feelings, while another might come from a more negative time in their life. At the end of the day I found the most diversity in the art. I was able to recognize the differences each piece had whether that be through medium or background, but at the end of the day each and every one of those students were able to come together to share their story or feelings through art.
During this year of RICE day, unlike the previous years, I got the chance to present my biology senior research project: Capsaicinoid Concentration in the Carolina Reaper Peaks at 40 Days From Fruit Set and Declines thereafter. Don’t worry, this blog won’t be scienecy whimey since most of my audience is not going to be biology major. Which brings me to my point: diversity in audiences.
Although I’ve already presented my poster to the peers in my class, presenting during RICE day was a whole different experience. To sum it up the best, I’m going to use Dr. Bousquet as an example. Unlike other professors, before he listened to our speech, he gave us a parameter: time and target audience. We needed to be able to explain our research to a “high school history teacher”, “under 5 minutes”. Not only did we need to condense our information, we also need to explain it in simpler language to avoid science jargons.
Most of us speakers have a very comprehensive understanding of our research, but most of our audience have different level of understanding. Just like we each have different background in terms of culture and knowledge in diversity. Sometimes it takes a little extra attention and effort to accommodate the difference.
Every year to kick off May term there is one party that unites every group that there is on campus. The infamous Kohlman Keg is a party that is set for the final day of tour week to blow off steam and start May term off with a bang. On this particular day, no one on campus is hated or left out of the party. Most of the year there are teams that might fight between one another, but on this day we are all friends just trying to have a good time. Last year was our freshman year and for most of us, it was our first. At first, I thought that this was a weird idea to get all the students together and just let them go crazy in the middle of a park. This party is the ultimate diversity event for anyone. When the Kegs are flowing there is no such thing as color, race, religion, or gender there’s just beer. Now around the park, there are games that are going on where there are teams of people that might not have anything to do with each other but we all get along very well. Now, this comes to a greater point to how we can use this experience. We see that all over the world there is trouble that brews between countries, religions, or even political parties. If all the diverse students at a small college in the middle of Iowa can solve their differences in one day; how come we can’t stop the wars and fighting that occurs around the world with just a few days, weeks, or months it would take to solve all the trouble in the world?
When you think of Wartburg, would you say it’s a diverse college? Personally, I think diversity is one of the things that Wartburg strives for. As a college that’s located in the small town of Waverly, Iowa, it can be difficult to develop and attract a diverse student community. The college experience, in general, should be one that’s filled with diverse experiences that make a better, more well-rounded student. Wartburg’s 2016 to 2017 enrollment was 1,482 students. Of those 1,482 students, 48% are men and 52% are women. Those 1,482 students come from 28 states in the United States and 58 countries including the United States. Of Wartburg’s 1,482 students, 193 are students of color from the United States, and 131 are international students. These 324 students make up the diverse student population at Wartburg. In total, the student body belongs to more than 25 Christian denominations and eight world religions. There are approximately 450 students involved in music on campus, making up 30% of the student body. There about 600 students who are involved in athletics. As you can see, Wartburg is a diverse community that helps its students become more well-rounded people and ready for the real world.
Change is hard.
Change is hard for everyone. Change is even hard for people who say they like change, whether or not they will admit it.
Before coming to college, I didn’t really believe this. It wasn’t until about the third month of school that it hit me that I would never play sports again on a competitive team. It wasn’t until Christmas break that I realized I would never stay in my childhood home for longer than a few months at a time again in my entire life. It wasn’t until several months after Christmas break that I realized I would never get the chance to compete in speech again, something that I had been very involved with in high school; that this year, someone besides myself would win the state championship in serious prose for the first time in three years. But for some reason, it didn’t really hit me that life had changed until one of my closest friends in high school sent me a picture from her graduation party. I was thousands of miles away on a May term trip to Europe and couldn’t be there for her party, and while I didn’t shed a tear at my own graduation, for some reason this made me cry.
It was then that I really realized that life would never be what it was, and the nostalgia of knowing I was growing up really got to me. Sitting in a cafe in Eisenach, I thought about all the things I would never experience again, and while it made me kind of sad, I also found it vaguely inspirational. While I wouldn’t be able to experience a number of things I had previously, I also had the chance to experience so much more in my future. I was sitting at a cafe in Eisenach because I was touring with my college band, something I would get to do for the next three years after that. I was in the band because I was at college and furthering my education, which would hopefully open up a variety of opportunities I wouldn’t have had the chance to experience otherwise. And while I couldn’t relive the past, I realized that I didn’t really want to. I had moved on to a point in my life that going back and doing the things I loved to do in high school wouldn’t be the same and wouldn’t give me as much enjoyment any more. I was different, and that was okay.
So while change is hard, its also transformative. It makes us unique and helps us grow, and for that reason, it’s essential to our future achievement and happiness.
Hearing the my friends’ stories about their educational experiences never ceases to amaze me in the levels of diversity that they experienced. Even those who came from similar areas of the country may have had vastly different experiences, but the common factor that seems to be evident in each of their stories is how inclusive or exclusive their school community was.
For some of my friends, high school was an overall good and eyeopening experience. Some traveled overseas with their music groups or leadership clubs, some had the opportunity to work in soup kitchens or clean up rough neighborhoods and talk to the individuals who lived there. Some had the opportunity to take advanced classes and college credit classes that enlightened them on what they could possibly do with the rest of their lives. Some were part of sports teams that made it to state championships and some won state titles in other competition based activities, along the way meeting and competing against people unlike themselves and forming friendships that would last much longer than the end of their seasons. I am fortunate enough to say that I was one of these individuals, and while I would not like to go back to high school by any means, it was an experience that changed my life for the better. Without the opportunities I was privileged enough to have, I would not be who I am today.
However, some of my other friends did not share the same outlook after their previous educational experiences. Some went to schools where signs of individuality were discouraged and diversity itself was a foreign concept. Everyone had their place in the social circle and no one dared try to change it. Individuals were stereotyped by who they were or what they did or where they came from. For some, the ironic song from High School Musical “Stick to the Status Quo” was less irony and more reality; you don’t associate with those outside of your class or your circle, and if you do, you are seen as a social pariah.
In order to broaden our horizons and experience life to its fullest, I believe we need to put ourselves in situations that allow us to experience life differently than what we are used to. We must get past what we see as social norms and reach out to those who may be different than us. Without this kind of development in our experiences, we lack a vital educational experience: we never learn what life is like for people not like ourselves.