Juan Benitez – Columnist
International freshmen, what if two years from now you find yourself feeling the urgency to have a dialogue with your past freshman self? What if there were things that you wished to tell to that naïve kid embarking on this new adventure of going to college abroad? What would you say?
Perhaps you are already missing international orientation, especially that night at the bonfire pit where you all sang How Great is Our God, each of you in your own language, but together, worshipping the same God in harmony. That night will remain in your memory and will remind you that the God you served at home is the same you encounter here at Dordt—the same one in every part of the world. When days get hard, and you miss home, think about that night and the feeling of certainty that this was the right place to be and that He brought you here.
You probably came to Dordt with certain expectations, and while some are surpassed, there are still some things that bother you. You look different than most people—something you never had to face when you were at home. Americans are nice and they treat you well but it is a little challenging to start a conversation, you do not understand the slang words they use and most of them won’t take the initiative to talk to you. It is up to you to take the first step. But sometimes a random person will approach you in a casual circumstance, someone like you, curious and with hunger for discovering new stories—these kind of people are the ones that will become your best friends. Take care and invest in these friendships. These are the people that will introduce to their families and make you feel welcome in this new land.
Be ready to become the definition of your country for people that do not even have a clue where it is. From now on you will represent your country and all of its citizens. Some Americans have the tendency of making quick assumptions and imagining a non-pluralistic country, you will realize this when they ask you questions like, “Do people in your country dress like you do?” “Do people in your country talk like you do?” “Are people in your country hairy as you are?” For a second you will wonder how much time it took them to formulate those questions, and if they really think that everyone in your country will look like you—male and female of all social classes and contexts, all hairy, outspoken, wearing colorful T-shirts and white male capris. Your answer to that question should be just a simple, “No.” These questions may be dumb, but dumb questions can be good. At least these people are asking them are, and it shows their interest in getting to know you, so try to not be too angry. I know sometimes it is offensive and annoying, but you need to give them a chance.
Racism and prejudice exist, but since they have such a bad connotation people don’t want to admit it. But you will experience it, and it even comes from good people, nice people. Those who hurt you are not mean; most of them won’t do it intentionally. But the most important advice is to feel empathy, even though most people won’t try to be in your shoes. What if you were raised in their context? What if you grew up oblivious to what happens beyond your horizons? What if you were raised to believe your culture was superior? What if you were unaware of all this?