An Interview with Delight

I was lucky to meet Delight Gavor from one of my very first weeks at Clark. I had just started working  at the Clark Fund, and I was to shadow her to get comfortable with calling. Throughout the past two years, I would then witness some of the many sides of her through organising TEDx and joining the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.

Delight is one of those people who inspire through their walk of life. I chose to interview her because she inspired me when I felt trapped at Clark. Here’s our conversation, a couple days just after she finished her final moments as an undergrad:

C: Pick five words to describe the past four years at Clark.

D: Cold. – laughs – Growth. Family. God. Memories.

C: How has Clark changed you?

D: How has Clark changed me? Well, I’ve learned to be very independent. I’ve learned to let my faith lead me into dark spots, when I can’t tell what will happen. And I’ve learned to keep trying.

C: Okay. Share with us one of your best and worst memories here.

D: Worst is everyday that’s cold. – laughs –

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(Don’t we all wish we can just push the cold away?)

Best was organising TEDx with the entire TEDx team. We went through so many obstacles, but we kept laughing. Also, seeing some of my friends come to faith. 

C: What would be your advice for international students coming to Clark for the first time? 

D: Don’t let go of your culture.

C: What are some examples of you keeping your culture?

D: I kept my accent, and my love for Ghanian food is something that grew a lot more…Just me wanting to showcase Ghanian fashion and Ghanian values.… [You should] celebrate it [your culture]. There are parts of the culture that make you who you are, and if you let go of those parts, you lose who you are. ‘Cause in the end, I’m Delight but I’m also Delight who are Ghanian. And taking those two things away wouldn’t make me who Delight is. But then even more, the likelihood of you being the only person out of your culture also makes it your responsibility to showcase to the world what it is – make people appreciate it because they may never have the chance to visit Ghana, you know? …Like that TED talk, Chimamanda’s talk about the danger of a single story, especially coming from Afirca where the African story is one-sided and it’s filled with poverty and all these things – in the end, you have a presentation of your culture so it’s also rich with so many gems, and you want people to know that. Other advice: find what you love to do and pursue it with your heart. 

C: How’d you find your passion?

D: I was reading this book, and it talks about how true vocation is where your heart’s gladness meets the world’s hunger…And I love to create, to learn in different ways…

C: How did you find interest in education specifically?

D: How? [Just from having] gone through the educational system and just from talking about it…worldwide education is becoming a means to just pass an exam…whereas it could be an instrument for you to create your positive realities, and I want to transform education to set that standard for education. 

C: Tell us more about when you discovered your passion for education.

D: Christmas break of my first year. I’ve never seen myself doing one thing – there was no one career that I wanted to do! It was more about what I wanted to do, and I wanted to improve the educational system. …So I asked: how do I want to do that, and in what way?

[This semester], I’m taking a Social Entrepreneurship class, and the professor kept saying: if not you, then who? If not now, then when? And also, there’s this other quote from Yunus or Gandhi: be the change you want to see in your world. Those two quotes got me thinking, why not now? Why not try and be the change I want to see in the education system?

C: Finally, if you could change anything about Clark, what would it be? 

D: Can they create wind tunnels? Shut us out of the cold. -laughs-

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And I guess more classes that teach about different parts of the world, we need to embrace culture a lot more. It shouldn’t just be left to ISA – the world should as a whole, should celebrate culture a lot more than it does. It’s doing well, but it should continue to challenge convention. 

This summer, Delight will be leading her Butterfly Effect program in Ghana (check out this Clark News article on her project). In the fall, she heads to Harvard to complete her master’s degree in education.

— Charis

All photos taken by the author.

Weekdays in Worcester

Anh earlier posed the question: “How do you spend the weekend?” in her first piece on our blog. In this post, I pose you another question: How do you spend the weekday?!

I’ll tell you mine. I spend it on the Clark campus, usually running around between Jefferson, JC, the gym, and the library. With my relationship with the cold (we don’t get along well), I try my best to minimize my trips from here to there. You’ll find it hard to make me leave home once I’ve settled in.

Although I had set a goal for myself since first year to push beyond the gates of Clark, success proved harder to obtain than expected. Many events and opportunities are shared through the LEEP or Innovation and Entrepreneurship department emails, but I hardly make it to any. With the International Gala happening one week and the Variant Dance show the next weekend, I was almost not sure if I would make it to the talk by Muhammad Yunus on Tuesday, April 5th.

But life had been feeling a little dry, and I thought why not? If not now, then when? And so I somehow worked it out and found a ride to Mechanics Hall in the evening of April 5th.

For those of you who don’t know him, Muhammad Yunus is the founder of the globally acclaimed Grameen Bank (“Village Bank”) in Bangladesh. He pioneered the idea of micro-finance through reaching out to small villages and offering small loans to poor communities. For this project, Yunus received various awards and prizes, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Why, you might ask, would a Nobel Laureate come speak in Worcester? I was wondering the same thing. It turns out that our friend Becker College is opening up a branch of Muhammad Yunus’s Yunus Social Business Center at its campus. This Center will be the first of its kind in the United States, and the fifteenth in the world. Yunus’s visit serves as a celebration of the opening of the Center’s doors.

Meeting global leaders, for me, has always been exciting. It’s exciting to put a human presence to a name, to realize that the accomplishments that seem out of the world were brought by another human being with a brain and a heart just like anyone else’s. His story itself was very inspirational. The bank had started when he, a professor in a university in Bangladesh, felt frustrated at the disconnect between the discipline of economics and the reality of poverty around him. It was specifically the famine in 1974 that pushed him to make small loans to families from low-income communities. This, then, grew into the bank. His story includes various points of obstacles, and how he overcame it with creativity.

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(Photo by author)

The end of his talk brought all of us to stand up and applaud him for his work. Despite that cheery mood, the Q&A session brought about some critical thoughts. I myself wished he would have spoken more about the role of the government, and how his model could create better forms of governance. At the beginning of the talk, he had noted that social business is necessary to combat government failures. However, I am skeptical that business alone can solve our society’s problems.

After the talk, I looked up some criticisms that Yunus and his micro-finance models have received. An article by The Guardian published back in 2011 referenced a study that essentially concluded that “the enthusiasm for micro finance has been rooted in the myth of the heroic individual entrepreneur, the rags to riches fairytales, Dick Whittington style.”  Indeed, various points during Yunus’s speech were so well told that I felt like I was listening to a self-discovery story rather than learning about a solution to a major world problem. It was almost too optimistic and simplistic, the way he glided over the limitations of his solution. The plot flew with no interruptions. Human ingenuity could solve everything.

Yet while I am inclined to disclaim his solution, I can’t. While this judgment may mean little, his presence seemed kind and well-intentioned. Can you really judge a person for trying? I mean, at least they’re doing something!

I am again reminded of how challenging convention and being critical all the time can be depressing and limiting. That day, I was outside the iron gates – I might as well let myself be fooled and optimistic for some time.

In her post, Anh talked about how weekends can get boring if you only stay on campus. Well, the mind can get trapped if you only spend weekdays on campus, too. Just a little change in scenario and crowd here and there can be quite rejuvenating.

In fact, once you get started, it’s almost hard to stop. On Thursday April 14th, I headed to the DCU Center for the Worcester Woman’s Leadership Conference. As usual, I could almost hear the skeptic go off in my head as I learned that one of the keynote speakers had worked at Fox News. Yet her words were so inspiring, and resonated with me in a way I hadn’t been for a while (Check out Mel Robbins’ How to stop screwing yourself TEDx talk). I then allowed myself to forget the politics and enjoy the moment.

It made me think that you really can’t rationalize everything. Not everything is supposed to be debated, to be argued, to be criticized. Many times, it’s best just to feel and empathize.

After all, that’s how you have hope.

-Charis

(Cover image by author)

A Vacancy in Education

I meant to write about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s visit to Clark on March 14th, but I realized that a bunch of sources have gotten that covered already – probably written much more eloquently and comprehensively than I would be able to (Check out Clark News, Telegram, Worcester Magazine, and MassLive). So, instead, I present some of my personal reflections on her speech.

The first impression I had was how much inspiration and motivation her presence brought. You could feel the energy change as soon as she stepped onto the stage. The first thought I had was: so that’s how a politician looks like. Even though most people didn’t seem so engaged in the first minutes of introductions – probably because it was Monday morning and we had been waiting for a while for the event to start – Atwood Hall was full of applause and cheers when Warren approached the podium.

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(Image: Clark News)

It brought me back to a high school English class that covered rhetoric. We read Jay Heinrich’s Thank You For Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson can teach us about the art of persuasion. (I would highly recommend this book!) In it, we learned about the three main tools of persuasion: logos, pathos, and ethos. You appeal to the crowd’s sense of logic (logos), evoke their emotions (pathos), and establish yourself as a credible source (ethos). That is exactly what Warren did. She presented her statistics and evidence in a way that made sense – federal resources helped drive desegregation back then in history, and so it should continue to drive the push against inequality today. Various quotes were charged with emotions – “Teaching is not a job, it is a calling”; “We cannot abandon our children”. Lastly, her speech starts and ends with her establishing her credibility – beyond having been a teacher herself, public education is personal to her because it allowed her to get to where she is today.

With so many interesting points being said and so many inspirational quotes to write down, one may forget the spaces between the words. What was not said? What was ignored?

While many points were addressed and brought to question by the panelists following the speech, I would like to address a very specific vacancy in Elizabeth Warren’s speech.

Asians.

She spoke of several goals for the federal government, that it should ensure Blacks and Latinos aren’t pushed to special education or disproportionately sent to prison lines. She spoke for the girls – how they should have access to sports, maths, or whatever they want. She spoke about economically marginalized groups.

But what about Asians? What about the minority group that makes 5.6% of the nation? Was the group ignored because it was presumably already doing well in education? And is that okay?

I have little to no knowledge on issues of discrimination on Asian Americans. As I mentioned in my previous post Nearsighted, racism and prejudice are social problems that I am still understanding and beginning to see in daily life. However, the concerns that came up to me during Warren’s talk were there because they reflected a social issue I heard of just a couple weeks ago.

In early February, filmmaker Curtis Chin had visited Clark to talk about his documentary “Tested”. The film speaks of the gap in opportunities for different races in public education, specifically in New York City. My education class (Complexities of Education Class) received an invitation to attend a pre-screening Q&A session with Curtis, and so I had the chance of also hearing his personal stories before watching the film.

In telling his inspiration to create documentaries, Curtis asked the class if anyone had ever heard of Vincent Chin. Facing a row of blank looks, he explained that unfortunately, not many people do. Vincent Chin was a Chinese American man who was beaten to death by two men who claimed that “it was because of you little motherf**kers that we’re out of work” in 1986. They blamed the decrease of US auto manufacturing jobs following the growth of Japanese economy on Vincent, who was not even Japanese. It was this story that sparked the Asian American movement and inspired Curtis to create a documentary – Vincent Who?

Curtis continued to tell us more about his experiences and insights of Asian American discrimination – and the missing dialogues on it. I was reminded of a particular statement he said as I listened to the Senator list future goals for public education. Curtis expressed his frustrations at politicians’ failure to address Asians. He would wait to hear those two syllables in Obama’s or Sanders’ speeches, and would, again and again, be disappointed when lists just like Warren had said ended with no mention of Asians.

Not even once.

Do Asians not suffer through the same oppression faced by other minorities?

A recent article on The Economist tells the story of discrimination of Asians in higher education. While the Asian American Achievement Paradox does exist, and 49% of Asian-Americans do have a bachelor’s degree (in contrast to the general population, 28%), there exists a disparity with their representation in higher ranked schools and the jobs they obtain after graduation. Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford found that Asian-Americans need 140 SAT points out of 1,600 more than Whites to get a place at a private university, and that Blacks need 310 fewer points. In 2014, whereas 11% of law-firm associates were Asian, only 3% of partners represented the group.

You could say that equity is not equality, that Asians are overachieving so it is okay for a “roof” to exist. You could say that entrance to higher level universities and positions is not as pressing as access to education itself. You could say others have it worse.

But I have a feeling the problem is more complex than that. I just can’t accept the notion that Asians are doing “okay” when I still see stereotypes portrayed in the media, still hear my friends’ stories of feeling not good enough, still feel the weight of judgement made in introductions and first impressions.

And when politicians continue to speak of social development without the mention of Asians, what message does this send?

During my education class, we discussed the tendencies of people stick with “safe” dialogues. By avoiding conflict, hidden judgement and oppression survive without being challenged. I know from my personal life that Asian culture and philosophy places high values in tolerance and resilience. The silence that these traits can bring, though, allow for a continuation of oppression.

I really enjoyed Elizabeth Warren’s talk, and walked out of Atwood that morning feeling inspired and motivated. She had convinced me, to an extent, that the federal can make a big impact in public education, and is needed for a development towards equity. However, I still am skeptical about the quality of impact that a large-scale action such as this one can really achieve. Is it even possible to create a policy that benefits a group at no one’s expense? I have lightly touched on the fact that Affirmative Action may be harming Asians here in this article, but there are even more groups of minorities in the US, beyond Blacks and Hispanics, that have not been addressed in Warren’s talk – and most likely other political speeches.

We must continue to strive for a world of equal recognition, and we must not lose sight of people’s different experiences. I believe that everyone suffers – the least we can do is recognize it.

-Charis

(Cover image source)

 

Event Recap: TCK Conference 2016 @Clark

Clark University hosted the 4th Annual TCK/ Global Nomads Conference on Saturday, February 27th. Check out our website for more information on the conference! Here’s a recap by Charis and Fileona. 

[Charis] I never identified myself as a third culture kid (TCK). It always just felt like a foreign concept meant for those who could not identify with a national identity, but I had no trouble identifying myself with Thailand. Last year, when I heard of the Annual TCK/ Global Nomads Conference that Clark hosts, I just thought that it was irrelevant to my life and, while interesting, wasn’t something I wanted to spend a Saturday doing. This year, I thought differently.

Maybe it was because the past summer was the longest time I’ve spent at home in the last six years that I had the chance to reflect my place in Thai society and my experiences of ‘belonging’. When I heard about the TCK Conference this year, I thought maybe I should check it out to see what it really means and how it relates to my life.

So at 10:30 on Saturday, I ended up in a room in Jefferson, listening to Melina Toscani’s (Clark ’16) presentation on being Internationally Schooled.

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The first presentation I attended of the day (Photo by Charis) 

Melina had run a survey of TCKs and non-TCKs on their experiences of going to international schools. The respondents ranged in age and nationality, but several themes were clear.

Saying ‘goodbyes’ was one. Some TCKs got used to it and some got tired of it. Many non-TCKs remember saying goodbyes to the TCKs. Some even talked about avoiding making friendships with TCKs because of the pains of parting ways. I related with this immediately. While I wasn’t used to saying goodbye, many of my high school friends grew up as TCKs and had little trouble moving on.

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Melina Toscani presenting responses from the survey (Photo by Charis) 

Then, there was the theme of identity. Being a TCK itself constitutes a form of an identity. Some respondents told the story of the division between TCKs and non-TCKs in their schools. There was the idea that being a TCK meant embracing various aspects of different cultures that may sometimes be conflicting – but you find a way to make them work.

After Melina’s presentation, I attended a presentation by Leeron Hoory and Nicole Ohebshalom titled Searching for my Mizrachi-Self. Before this presentation, I had never heard of the term ‘Mizrachi’. As I listened, I first thought of the Arab-Israeli conflict and immediately questioned the implications of the division between the Arab Jew and the European Jew identities on Israeli conceptions of Palestine. Once I heard of Israel, I just thought of politics and controversies.

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Leeron Hoory introducing Nicole Ohebshalom’s video presentation. (Photo by Charis)

Listening to the presentation, then, was very eye-opening and humbling for me. It reminded me of the complexities of our world – of identities and conflicts, of the nonexistence of black and white lines. I have always looked at the conflict between Palestine and Israel as a conflict between states, and didn’t realize the widespread tensions – both national and local – that exist because of the conflict. The Palestinians are not the only ones that are excluded in this current situation – Jews within Israel are too. Leeron’s and Nicole’s stories are testimonies to this fact.

After that session, we headed to Tilton for lunch. I had the chance to meet some students and staff from Amherst College, and other Clark alumni. The hall was full of laughter as we listened to Teja Arboleda’s journey as an ‘alien’. He challenged us to explore the question of identity through his life story.

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Lunch with students and staff from Amherst College. (Photo by Charis)

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A time to mingle and eat. (Photo by Charis)

Then, we went for the afternoon sessions. I attended Laura Owen’s presentation on The World Is Our Home: TCKs as Global Citizens and What We Should Do With it. In this session, we were encouraged to share our stories and discuss the meaning of being a ‘global citizen’. While this definition can vary, the central idea is empathy. It is realizing and appreciating the connection between all of us individuals as human beings of this world.

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Laura Owen on Global Citizen (Photo by Charis) 

I got sick after that session and had to leave early. However, the conference introduced me a little more to the concept of being a TCK. I still don’t identify myself as a TCK, but listening to various stories have prompted me to recognize that while this word doesn’t mean much to me, it’s an identity for many people who don’t find their identities elsewhere.

[Fileona] The TCK conference gave me good insight into how terms like “identity,” “race,” “ethnicity” and “culture” are divisive yet incredibly redundant. Teja Arboleda (Clark ’85) and Farah Weannara’s (Clark ’16) game show: What Are You Anyway? The Ultimate Identity Game made the definition of such terms, for lack of a better work, incredibly absurd. Below is a photo of the multiple choice answers for “What is a TCK, anyway?”

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What is TCK, anyway? (Photo by Fileona)

The last word in the question, “anyway” was a cool subversive challenge against how such terms confine us. Race, ethnicity and cultural identity can sometimes be incredibly divisive. Key to the TCK experience, as Teja said, “is navigating the being of being more than one thing.” This navigation is basically the realization that in the end no matter how multiracial, multi-ethnic, multicultural our experiences are, the fact is that humans are much similar that we’d like to think.

Once this had been established, I attended another session Life in Transition: The Evolution of Home’ over Time by Juan Gabriel Delgado Montes (Amherst College).

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Juan Gabriel Deldago Montes raised the possibility of categorizing our definition of home according to our age (Photo by Fileona)

For the TCK, home is not a definite spot, since it has been several places over the course of time. This session went along with this year’s conference theme: Redefining Home, evolving identities in a global world. For international students and most emerging adults, this echoes a common question, “Where will my home be?” The session discussed that as we grow, home will change from being a specific country to being several countries to even the possibility of home being a person (spouse/partner). Discussing where we could look for “home” was perhaps a good end to the conference.

-Charis and Fileona 

We hope to see you at next year’s conference! 

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Conference Attendees (Photo by Fileona)

(Cover image by Fileona)

 

Nearsighted

I was extremely excited for my two best friends to meet – one from Thailand, the other from America. Both kind, funny, and artsy girls that I loved. I was confident that they would get along immediately.

That, unfortunately, didn’t happen. Just in the first ten minutes after introductions, the Thai one said the n-word and the American became silent. I was troubled, but hesitant. This American friend of mine has, in the past, run into several conflicts with others on the topic of race, and I never really understood it. I reasoned that she was probably just too sensitive.

She asked me, did your friend actually just use that word? I nodded apologetically, please excuse her, most of us Thais aren’t aware about the issues. She doesn’t mean in that way.

The American wasn’t convinced, and I shamefully did not say anything to my Thai friend. After all, I understood her position. Can you really call a person racist if they were never taught about race? Can you blame them for ignorance?

It’s often harder to be critical to people you empathize and relate to. I’d like to say I was never racist and only ignorant, but my time at Clark has challenged me to question the claim that racism and ignorance are separate concepts, and that one is deplorable and the other excusable.

I remember what ‘teasing’ was like in kindergarten. My nickname for one of my best friends was “tia-dum” (short and black). We called the Sikh “jook” or “salapao” (little ball/ Chinese bun). It was common to pull our eyes into thin lines to make fun of those with stronger Chinese ethnicity. The Indians were stinky, and “Lao” literally was used as a synonym for “pathetic”.

I attended an international school in the middle of Bangkok, the capital city, all the way until 8th grade, and I don’t remember ever realizing the weight of these names we gave people. It was only midway through high school in 10th grade, when I studied Thailand from a foreign perspective, that I realized how incredibly messed up it all was. I stopped using the words immediately.

My path of ignorance, however, did not end. Racism, to me, didn’t seem as pressing as other issues like global warming. Even as I told myself I believed in interdependence and interconnections, I failed to see ‘racism’. I was nearsighted, but denied the use of spectacles. I was aware of the Rwandan genocide, the Holocaust, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and others alike but the word ‘racism’ still seemed more American than anything.

This all changed last semester. My roommates and I were late to the Midnight Mayhem basketball match, and we saw upset students by the doors of Kneller. I had no idea what was happening and instead walked inside, but was shocked to learn the events that have passed right before we arrived. I was shocked to know that so many students stayed on the benches. I was touched to see and hear the emotions felt by students of color. It dawned upon me then that just because I couldn’t see these things around me doesn’t mean that they don’t exist in my world too.

When the Forum on Race happened, I decided to attend even though I wasn’t quite sure how racism played out in my daily life or what it really meant for others. I told myself to respect others’ beliefs, at least hear them out, and have my mind opened. That night, as I listened to all sorts of stories in a Tilton packed with students, I finally saw how blind I have been.

What it propelled me to realize further was that America is probably not the most racist country – it’s just the one that talks about it the most. So many of us are still completely unaware of the oppression we impose on others as well as the oppression we suffer ourselves.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to realize some of the unconscious biases that obscured my perception. Do I feel guilty? Yes, but I also still vividly remember how the world looked and I don’t think I can feel angry at those who haven’t seen yet – at least not any time soon. Even the memories where racist attitudes have made me feel insecure look different now. The wrongfulness I accused of them were the same things I did without a second thought. I can only share with them what I learned and hope that they, one day, encounter an experience that will make them feel as well.

Right after the Forum on Race, I went to Facebook and typed a message of apology to my American friend. I apologized for not speaking up, for not understanding, for not listening, and for not admitting my blindness.

-Charis 

(Photo credit: author) 

Lunar New Year 2016

 

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ACS E-board members welcome the guests.

The Asian Culture Society hosted its annual event, the Lunar New Year celebration, the past Saturday. Students from all sorts of cultures gathered under Tilton’s draped ceilings for an evening of delicious food, good music, and pleasant company.

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The event started with a speech from the President, Cisco Borges. With an easy smile and a friendly voice, he told the story behind the Lunar New Year and spoke of love and happiness. He then welcomed a group of Worcester youth who danced the lion dance. After the two lions bounced around the room for a while and granted us good fortune, students’ performances followed.

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Singer Gillian Yuan shared the love with Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love”.

Other performances included an anime medley compiled by “Tee” Teerawat, a diabolo show from President Cisco himself, and some singles from 3 Piece Meal – whose debut album will be released this week!

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Farah Weannara reads some of the new year wishes tied to the wishing tree. 

 

We all then competed to answer trivia questions about Asian traditions. Each table did its best to get to the food first. The energy and brain power were well spent, as the MC proceeded later to point out that many asked her where ACS had ordered this delicious food from. Dragon Dynasty will most likely be seeing an increase in its college student orders now!

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A dragon hangs down Higgins University Center.

The evening ended with dancing and photo taking. I stayed at the Photo Booth as a volunteer photographer, but it was lovely seeing individuals from everywhere gather together to celebrate an Asian tradition in the other side of the world. A home away from home was created, and hearts were warmed amidst the cold winter.

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-Charis

(All photos taken by the author) 

American Culture

They’re much more open – their moms won’t be complaining about things like wearing shorts and miniskirts.

People are so outgoing. Talking to strangers is normal – I just randomly walked into a party and it was completely fine!

There’s freedom unlike the oppression we have here. We’re so backwards. Why can’t we be as progressive as they are?

I love America. I’d rather live there.

These are some of the comments I’ve heard from my Thai friends in the past. Educated by Hollywood, MTV, and Scholastic, America used to seem glamorous and exciting. If you had asked me before what American culture was, I’d probably give you two words: outgoing and friendly.

Limited?

Quite.

But that is exactly what went in my head until I left Thailand and made my first American friends abroad. They introduced me to the absurdity of auto-tuning, the pleasures of being obnoxiously loud, the reality of race, and the ways one can deal with criticisms.

Coming from a place where America still seemed great, I was surprised to hear that everyone’s got a problem with America. It was normal for other international students to make jokes about the United States and blame global problems on its politics. I observed my American friends laugh it off, even joining in on the comedy. Being ‘American’, at one point, seemed like an insult.

It was always strange to me, that all other nationalities could freely judge this nation and, at the same time, criticize it for judging others. I suppose it made us feel like we were putting in more equity into the world, as a global community enacting the rules of “karma”.

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Since I arrived Clark University last year, I’ve gotten the chance to expand my narrow understanding of American culture. Thanksgiving may not be without controversies, but my experiences made me admire the notion of coming together to be grateful. I’ve learned to appreciate the spirit of freedom this country nourishes, and respect its hardworking citizens. Living here has made me realize that not all Americans are unaware of perceptions of ‘America’ abroad. Many are, in fact, working hard to change things here.

I previously overheard a discussion on American culture. One argued that there was no such thing. That, on top of all the criticisms I have heard about America, ticked me off and eventually pushed me to write something.

Yet for some reason, it was difficult to put my thoughts into words. There was a confusion I couldn’t quite resolve. I believe there is an American culture, but I don’t know how I should describe it. As I struggled, a helpful friend offered me a possible explanation. She proposed that one of the reasons it’s so hard for us to locate an ‘American culture’ is that the culture itself is widespread amongst various cultures. It’s easy to pinpoint a culture when it’s unique or foreign to us, but many parts of the American lifestyle are shared across the globe.

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Some of the responses 22 Clarkies gave to the question: What are some words you associate with the American culture? The ones in bigger sizes are the ones that were frequently mentioned. You’ll have to excuse words like “french” or “melting”, which the application split out of “french fries” and “melting pot”. 

As you can see in the image above, many of these words can be associated with other cultures and lifestyles. Baseball is widely played in Japan. Obesity is a huge problem in Mexico. Oprah and Hollywood are popular around the world – Bollywood isn’t considered American, is it? Freedom and democracy are values now advocated by international organizations around the globe. Perhaps because they are so well-known, we don’t associate these traits as being ‘American’ even though they spring to mind when we are asked to define ‘American culture’.

That raises the question: does a characteristic trait of a culture still belong to its people if it has been shared with other groups of people?

If we go back to the roots of the word ‘culture’, we find that it is not a static term. ‘Culture’ comes from the Latin term ‘colore’ which means to tend or cultivate. It was only expanded from its agricultural definition when Cicero used the word as a metaphor for the development of the soul – cultura animi (Yes, I did use Wikipedia). Rather than a fixed word identifying a fixed way of life, it is a growing process. Just as it doesn’t have to be trapped in the limits of time, it also doesn’t have to remain within physical boundaries. Culture is shared.

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Today, especially with the developments in technology and the reductions in the weights of distance, we have come to a point where we constantly share thoughts with those on the other side of the globe. We influence them as they influence us, and our identities are as mixed as ever. Although we may not realize it, our lifestyles probably have references from societies we have never physically met. Just as we criticize other cultures, we must also then recognize the flaws in our own.

What do you think American culture is? What is your culture? Do you see spaces where they overlap? If you have opinions, please share in the comments below and please disagree with me. After all, we are in the land of the free.

-Charis 

(All photos by Charis Smuthkochorn)