Juan: A dialogue with my freshman self

Juan Benitez – Columnistel bigote

Dear freshman self,

I can remember well that feeling of confusion that comes with unexpected questions that put you in a hard spot. You have few seconds to answer and you know that to be honest is not an option. There is no way you can win, no matter what you answer. You will gain practice as the months pass, and after some time, you will answer them naturally. There won’t be hesitation— just a clear speech that was carefully built after each difficult question.

Watch out for the tricky question “what you want to do after college?” If you say you want to stay to work for some years, or go to graduate school, Americans will still see you as the immigrant that takes their job and blows out their system. They will look you with a certain pity and give you a look that tacitly says “I understand you, it is ok to not want to leave…“ and suddenly the look in their eyes will drastically change to  “…but this is not your country”.

If you say you want to return to your country they will be surprised. Americans want you to say that you want to stay in the US, even though they do not want you here in the long term. Stating that you can project yourself living in the US is for them an affirmation of their belief that this is the best place in the world. Your refusal though, is a challenge to the way they see the world— their facial expression when you say you want to leave is priceless.

But don’t be too harsh, you do not want to hurt their ego too much. Explain them that you miss your family, food and people, and make it seem that parts of you want to stay and parts of you want to return. This is the best reply independently of you wanting to stay or return. The safest statement is to say that you do not know, since there are opportunities at home and here. This will be a good introduction for them to the different hypothesis that life is just as good abroad as it is here but at the same time it won’t hurt them too much.

Be ready for occasions in which professors will expose you in front of an entire class. Professors want a straight forward answer (just in the same way that most things are in America: simple and uncomplicated). My scariest experience was during a science class in which a professor asked me “so what do you think about American foreign policy?” I quick looked around me. The crowd was filled with American science kids, and I have to admit: science people at Dordt are not well aware of what goes in the world.

After checking my audience, I knew that if I gave an honest response and criticized US foreign policy as imperialistic, my classmates would see me as the new ISIS terrorist (this would not be good since I look Middle Eastern).  If I said that I agree with it, I would be seen as a “lover of Murica”—be someone who escaped from from hunger and oppression, and that found “freedom” here. I ain’t none of those. I knew that it did not matter how many arguments I had to explain what I believed, there was no easy way out. I preferred to sound foolish— as someone who had never considered thinking about American foreign policy. I answered with a simple “I don’t know”. The professor went back to his lecture and things continued as before: easy-going, simple and uncomplicated— just as everything seems to be at Dordt and America.

Dear freshman self, don’t be scared. Remember the place you come from and remember the excitement of standing for something. Remember that you could be born in this place—you would like to be exposed to different ideas and you would need to be confronted. But don’t hurry. Words will come back.  At some point you will no longer hesitate, your speech will be sharp— a clear speech that was carefully built after remaining silent for a long time.

Juan Pablo Benitez Gonzalez

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