These days, society seems to be totally dependent on individualism and the “me, me, me” attitude that coincides with our modern, technologically advanced way of life in the 21st century. We just don’t seem to click as one like we used to back then when neither of us really had anything but the clothes on our back and the warmth in our eyes.
I’m a victim to that as well because I tend to enjoy being alone and far away from other people’s problems. I didn’t have it in me to care enough about someone else especially when everyone inhabited the selfish aura. However, it only took a recent four-day trip from Malaysia to Grand Rapids to change all of that in me.
After Christmas break, I was well on my way back here from home and my scheduled flight was set to reach here on Sunday night, but it didn’t. As most of you now experience, the dreaded cold that swept the nation was affecting everybody especially in the east coast and it was none more apparent than in an airport.
I have never in my life seen so many angry and frustrated faces on people who are upset over the impending cancellation of flights throughout this harsh weather. People were arguing and even occasionally screaming at airport employees that did not make it easier for a “safe travel.” I, myself, had to stand in long lines hoping to reschedule for a different flight, but that didn’t work as well as they were all cancelled in the end.
So, as my patience wore thin and my face felt gross from this long trip, it only took another flight cancellation to invoke a small sense of unity when myself and a handful of others decided to band together. One of us suggested that we should just drive ourselves from Detroit to Grand Rapids and as we make haste, our little community was born.
Myself included, there was a South African-born man, a Nigerian teddy bear, a bald Mark Strong lookalike, a biomedical engineering sophomore from Michigan and a freshman from Michigan as well with her mom. It was the perfect blend of misfits banding together to get through this horror movie of a nightmare. I even suggested that I’d most likely go off first seeing as the history of horror doesn’t favor people like me too much.
As we set through our 3-hour something drive all the way to Gerald R. Ford airport, we slowly dismembered ourselves and went our separate ways in hopes that we would never had to experience such an experience ever again. It goes to show that even in these dark times, there are still people who would come together in the form of standing very closely to keep warm in an outdoor bus stop while waiting for a shuttle. It’s this experience that one will never forget in his or her lifetime.
The other day in class, I was talking with my peer editing group. We had covered our subject matter and had started chatting about our lives. I looked at the girl next to me and asked, “Any plans for this weekend?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “I’m celebrating my birthday.”
“Happy Birthday!” I responded, “How old are you?”
“I’ll be 18!”
I stopped, mouth agape, before setting my head on the table while mumbling, “holy shit, I feel old.”
This is what returning to college at 26 is like – with a lot of moments where I just want to set my head on the desk and cuss.
But it’s also been refreshingly not at all like this at the very same time.
Also, I understand that 26 is not impressively old to be returning to college, but I hope you understand that if you haven’t done this, it does feel impressive, from time to time.
And though I do feel a bit out of date, out of place, out of the loop in my classes now and again, there are also a majority of moments when I feel like I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. It’s true, miracles do happen.
Despite this incredible new development of my love for higher education, there are still some things that boggle my mind. Some things that I just can’t wrap my head around when it comes to college and it’s students.
The first being – Why the hell are people perfectly okay with wearing pajamas to class? I counted the other day and five, yes FIVE of my peers were wearing sweatpants, sweatshirts, and looked completely disheveled; like they woke up, took a piss, put on shoes and walked to class. I will never understand it. You are in public. I repeat, in PUBLIC. Show a little respect and at least throw on jeans. I mean, just pretend that you give a shit about your education. Your professor put on pants, the least you can do is reciprocate the gesture. Remember that phrase “dress for success”? Clearly you do not.
Secondly- skateboarders and bikers on campus. GVSU is a fairly large campus, and getting around can take some time. This I understand, so I get that wheels make things quicker, more convenient. What I don’t understand is your dire need to terrify pedestrians as you frantically pedal amongst the crowds. Am I obligated to jump off the path out of your way? Or are you going to cut into the grass and go around me? Why aren’t you using your hand signals or at least make eye contact with me? We end up doing the most awkward dance between feet and pedals, you topple over onto the concrete and I trip over my own hurried boots and spill coffee all over my shirt. I wish we could all just agree to walk. (Note: This has never actually happened, but this image flashes in my mind every time a biker comes at me)
Lastly is the inability to use words and direct them at one another on public transportation. Yes, we’re talking conversation here, people. The bus is an incredible tool for commuters to avoid the massive on-campus parking fee, and plenty of us take advantage of it. Plenty as in, our bodies are touching as we cram in every last passenger we can fit. As in, if a stranger got this close to me in any other situation, I would assume they were trying to rape me. You get the picture. So can’t we look each other in the eye and acknowledge on another? I mean, simple things like “Good morning,” “Hello there,” “How are you?”
The other day I was one of the last people to get on the bus to head toward school. We could make it work, but while we began cramming there was also an uncomfortable squashing of bodies that no one would acknowledge. I grated my teeth. I couldn’t handle the awkwardness. The tall gentleman next to me inched closer, trying not to touch anyone. I snapped. “Come here big guy,” I said as I grabbed him around the waist and pulled him toward me. He said NOTHING in return. Still, two more people could board. “God bless the bus, where strangers are forced to cuddle,” I attempt at humor. Two small chuckles.
I guess if I can’t text you, we just shouldn’t communicate, right? Sorry, next time I’ll make sure to put my headphones in and keep my eyes on my feet, completely ignoring that millimeters of clothing are all that separate our private parts, which are being forced to grind in an awkward non-dance that would look totally acceptable if only terrible rap music was blasting over the speakers.
In any case, I’ll deal with the unexplainable and continue to throw myself lovingly to my studies.
To good grades, may they be mostly A’s.
We have all heard about this word. It is quite fascinating how a person can adapt to different environments.
Well, this is the key for every successful international student studying abroad: adaptation. We simply came from different cultures, backgrounds, beliefs, and we came to shape ourselves to fit a new place in our life.
It gets hard sometimes, I have to admit. When you go to a supermarket, and you ask how much the apples are, they tell you it is $2 per pound, and your mind goes like, “How much in kilos?”
Imagine that you are standing at the bus stop, and two foreigners come and start talking in a weird language. One percent of your mind says, “I wish I knew a different language,” and 99 percent is saying, “You better be not talking about me boy.”
It is weird and funny sometimes how we can try to adapt to a certain environment. My international friends know English almost perfectly, watch a lot of American movies, and hear lots of different stories. But until now, when they come to their home country, they get culture shock and it takes time to adapt.
America is unique in many ways. It has its own drinking rules, measuring system, laws, restrictions, etc. No matter how much Hollywood will try to show the American life on TV, it will never be the same as living it.
I recall also, when one of my friends came to Grand Valley, he was so ready to party every day. When he came, he thought life in the U.S. was going to be like “American Pie” and “Project X,” but the big disappointment came when he learned that drinking is from 21 and over, and he was like, “What? I thought this is was a free country.”
It was a big surprise for many internationals to know that drinking is from 21 and not 18 like they are used to from their home country.
Another big issue internationals face is the American welcome. People in America say, “Hi, how are you?” This is just a hello for Americans, but for us internationals, we tend to think that the person actually cares. So we stop and we respond, but then we find that the person just disappears and doesn’t even look back.
Like I said, America is unique in many ways. That is what makes it special. As an international student in an American university, I love the USA. I might disagree with some ideas but I am glad to be a part of this community.
I still remember my first day coming to the great USA, even though it was a year ago. I remember the passport check in line— that I had to wait in it for two and a half hours. I also remember my orientation here in GVSU; it was incredible, but I also remember the questions that I was asked, that my international friends dealt with, too. The first question I always get when I tell someone I am from Egypt is whether I live in or near the pyramids. Few people realize that pyramids are built as tombs, so it would not make sense to live in one. The second question I always get: do I get to school on my camel, or on chariot driven by camels? When I am home in Egypt, I drive a Mercedes (not bragging about anything)— a bit different from a camel. Unfortunately many people in the United States get their information from Hollywood, and, speaking from personal experience, Hollywood is not a good source. Egypt is often depicted in movies as pyramids, desert and camels, so when people think of Egypt that is often the first picture that comes to mind. This stereotype is not only in Egypt, but many other countries too. Africa is often seen as being the poor people in the jungle, Latin America as people dancing salsa and selling drugs, etc. I have to admit, I had some stereotypes about America too, but who doesn’t? I expected everyone to be either models or obese, no in-between. I expected that in America, you would be free to do whatever you want; I assumed that you could drink in the streets and that wherever you go, you would find a celebrity. Funny isn’t it? But not all stereotypes are correct, especially the negative ones. Even if you think a certain stereotype is true. I had the negative assumption that Americans would see me as a terrorist, just because I am an Arab. Fortunately, I was mistaken, and the proof is the questions I got. We cannot prevent stereotypes; we try, but it is not possible. We will always have a first impression, we will always have a stereotype, and we will always judge the book from its cover. But here what we can do is to ignore this first impression or stereotype, and swim deeply in this knowledge to know more, rather than judging the person or culture, and leave it like this. It is not stupid to ask to know more about a certain culture, but it is unwise to judge them or describe them while you don’t have any clue about them. We have this saying in my country: “knowledge is light and ignorance is darkness”. So, dear reader, let’s light this country up.
As the minutes started to pass by quickly, I was determined to finish the race in any way I could and wouldn’t allow myself to be transported to the finish line via a vehicle. That was not how I wanted to run my first marathon. And so, with my legs all massaged, sprayed and taped with very bright blue checkered sports tape, I walked back out, joining the crowd of masses en route to Santa Monica beach where the finish line was.
It was hard to swallow the fact that I had to resort myself to walking and not running, which is something I vowed not to do in a race. But, with my legs feeling unsure I just couldn’t take the risk. And mind you, it was a long 12-mile walk to the finish line.
I kept watching people run past me in every single direction while I was feeling helpless. The onlookers on the sidewalks were noticing this young, naïve runner with the blue-checkered taped legs walking his race with his head facing down. I’ve never felt such an overwhelming feeling of disappointment and failure in my life. It was not pleasant.
And so, I kept walking on and ignoring all the amazing Californian sights I could’ve enjoyed if I’d actually run the rest of the race. Volunteers and people holding signs were cheering everyone up including me, but it was just too hard to feel motivated when your body doesn’t want to comply. In the back of my mind, I was sure that everything I did in my training would suffice for the race but I was wrong. My heart was literally breaking on the racetrack.
I did talk to some people and making them feel encouraged when they dropped down to my level. I knew that they needed to hear those words even though they came from a failed runner. I figured that it’d be better to cheer someone up than to pity myself to death. I even met a nice gentleman who resorted to walking as well and we talked for quite a bit.
As the morning slowly changed to a windy afternoon, I managed to squeeze out any sort of energy and willpower left to run to the finish line because I’d rather die than to walk it. It was a feeling of joy mixed with despair to know that it was finally over but in an excruciating fashion.
No one said that it would be easy, especially for a guy who’s never done serious running before until less than a year ago. But the one thing I learned is that life throws curve balls like that everyday and the only way to learn is to fail big and learn from the mistakes. I was determined that my next marathon will be a tremendous success indeed. Until then, I shall look at my marathon medal hanging on my wall with some slight feeling of satisfaction.
Two weeks ago, I had to exercise my touristic skills in a city I have wanted to visit for a long time: Detroit. You might wonder what is so exciting about visiting it. Well, what is so exciting about the Eiffel Tower? I can see it every day and really don’t think anything special of it.
As a foreigner, as unbelievable as it may sound, going to Detroit has been on my checklist for a long time. I have heard so many things about the city, which has built my excitement over the years. From different people I heard it was dangerous, that there was nothing to see, that Detroit was the most beautiful city around here.
While in the U.S. I’ve had the chance to travel around a little bit. I got to go to Miami, New York City, Columbus, Cincinnati, Boise (yes, in Idaho), and Chicago. The Windy City, which is not too far away from Allendale, has always shown me a good time. However, I have realized that when in town, I’ve never really seen what I wanted to see. It is fun to shop and mingle with other tourists between the towers and what not, but there is more to it.
My friends from Chicago do not spend their day shopping downtown or at the museum when they are at home, just like I don’t spend my days eating croissants and crêpes, or going to the Louvre. A tourist is, I guess, not supposed to see what is behind the magic of all those gorgeous skyscrapers, but a little curiosity never hurts. Why not put yourself in Simba’s shoes and ask, “Tour guide, what’s that shadowy place?” Mufasa told his son to not ever go there, but clearly he had to experience some things outside of his territory for him to know. It couldn’t be that bad.
I believe this is a prime example of why some of us nowadays are so close-minded and oblivious to this world. We are protected and tend to protect others from real life situations, but I will keep it for another column.
When you think about it, cities are all the same. There is always a poor side, a richer side, downtown and a “dangerous” side. In Detroit, my friend Vonnie took me to places where regular young ladies of our age from Detroit would go. She actually didn’t show me Detroit, she showed me HER Detroit, and I loved it. I came back telling all my friends what I had seen, where I have been, and what I ate and they could all relate to it.
This visit definitely changed my mindset. Now when visiting a new city, I will only allow myself to see the deep heart of it and make sure I mingle with more of the population than the cashier of Forever 21.
This summer, a couple of my friends are traveling to Europe, and I cannot wait for them to come to France so I can show them how we do it in MY Paris.
And I’m off! Thousands of feet clattering and stomping on the ground in every direction around me. People started to move quickly in front of the crowds to get their run on and so did I. I managed to get enough of space in front of me to transition from walking to running and I never looked back.
The morning sun was still starting to wake up as I made my way downtown with all the energy and excitement in my bones. I could see people of all shapes and sizes joining me together on this journey to achieve something great on a St. Patrick’s Day. The first downhill was relatively easy but as the race progresses, certain changes made me think otherwise of my abilities.
All throughout my 15-week training schedule, there were rarely times where I had to run up and down hills except for the one on Wilson on the way to Family Video. Other than that, I was running on relatively flat ground most of the time. So, when I encountered multiple hills on the LA route, I had to push myself a little bit more than I planned to just so that I didn’t get left behind. This means that I had to run faster than my original pace, which isn’t always good – especially at the beginning of the race.
After about the sixth or seventh mile, my legs started to wear off a bit. I got scared because this has never happened during my training – but because of the hills, I began to feel it. I kept on running though because that’s what runners do, they never stop for a minor hiccup like that. Reaching closer to the 13th mile mark, I found myself slowing down excessively and felt my legs getting tired. Not to mention a blister that was starting to be apparent on the bottom of one of my toes, which made it uncomfortable to run.
I kept telling myself positive things and assuring myself that no matter what happens, I will be able to finish this race. It was as if my mind was fighting it out with my body. Then, all of a sudden, my right hamstring cramped up. I couldn’t believe it myself. I could tell from a fact that no one in the race but me was experiencing it at that moment.
Luckily enough, there was a medic tent right next to me where two people had to carry me and place me on a bed to massage my legs. I lay face down on the bed while watching people kept running right in front of me. The pain from my legs and the thought of not being able to join back in was a bitter pill to swallow.
“Not right now,” I told myself, “not for my first marathon.”
Imagine yourself as a parent. One day, your 17-year-old daughter tells you she wants to go study abroad on the other side of the globe for a whole year. It doesn’t include visits, only phone calls, and living with a different family that you have never met. For eleven months, you would have no control over where she goes, when she comes home, who she hangs out with, what she wears and eat.
Would you be able to sleep at night? I often wonder how many times a day my parents think about what I could possibly be doing. Anything can happen, and it’s not like they are 20 minutes away and could get here fast. I asked myself a couple times “Why don’t they call me every minute?” I figured they got used to me being gone by now, but when I don’t get my Sunday phone call, I feel like they forgot about me. Is it just them realizing that I am growing up? I think so, but let me tell you something, my parents can sleep tight.
I’m loved and in good hands on this side of the ocean. Americans have a sense of hospitality like no other and I have learned that those who have less share the most. Throughout my journey, I had the chance to live with a lot of families, way different than mine. Single mothers, working 3rd shift would go out of their way to make sure I feel comfortable in their home. They would give me anything I need and more, because they expected somebody to do the same for their daughters. I still feel the joy in my Mom’s voice when she calls and I tell her that I’m in Chicago, because my friend invited me over for Thanksgiving or that I was invited to Detroit for Easter!
I call all my friends’ mothers “Mom” and make every city my city. I feel so loved and welcome everywhere I go. I used to question the fact that my parents could take an international student in our home and be a host family, but now, I have no doubt. My experience definitely changed their minds. They developed relationships through the phone with each and every person who took care of me since I’ve been here and I can’t wait for the day they all meet each other. I will never be thankful enough. Love has no frontiers, and I hope being able to receive and spread it in so many more places where others need it as well in the future.
My family doesn’t know that I spend all my money on fast food. They don’t know that I go out way more than I should. They always wonder why I am always sick, but they will never know, and I will never tell them that it is because I refuse to wear a coat in the winter. What they don’t know won’t hurt them, but knowing I am in good, loving hands, will help them sleep better at night.
This was it: The big day. As per usual, I was overly excited and couldn’t seem to sleep enough so I decided to wake up right before any of my alarms went off. I had all my routine planned out for that morning and I raced to the bathroom for some intense teeth brushing and then it was off to make some breakfast. I had a little trouble deciding what to eat before the race so I just went for some easy digestible food like oats, yogurt and a banana. Granted, it was three hours before the race so I knew I’d be hungry again before the race starts, but also I didn’t want to be that guy who rushes off to the port-o-potty right in the middle of the race so I decided that my energy gels should be sufficient.
I put on all my running gear and headed out to the shuttle bus two streets away from my hotel. The weather was chilly and a little breezy around 5am in downtown LA but my mind was completely focused elsewhere. The ride to Dodger Stadium was shorter than expected due to no traffic that early in the morning and as I arrived, I could see people walking into the stadium and I couldn’t wait to see what was waiting for me inside there.
The moment I walked in, I saw a whole swarm of runners in every direction and a small live stage with girls dancing on it. There were probably thousands of people, if not more, gathering inside and the most populated place was definitely the restrooms. There were literally lines forming as long as I can imagine with guys needing to go about their business before the race started.
With about an hour left until the race began, I started my stretching and making sure that my legs wouldn’t give out on me during the race. There were all types of runners around in size wise and personalities. There was Batman, Robin, Superman and what supposedly is a green fairy to celebrate St. Patty’s Day. As my group was being called to get ready for the final whistle, I had to squeeze through tons of people to get ahead enough so that I don’t get left in the back.
I braced my breathing just to calm myself down and got my watch ticking and ready for when I cross the starting line. I looked up into the sky one last time as if I was hoping for a miracle run and I know that no matter what happens, I’ll always remember this day for what it is. The announcer started counting down from 10 and as we all moved further and further forward, I could feel my heart beating to the sound of the shoes stomping on the ground. And as the word “Go!” was shouted, I ran past the starting line and off into the distance.
“Asking questions is not always a sign of ignorance, but sometimes the best way to show curiosity. As I often say, I do not mind answering questions at all. No one will ever know everything on this planet, so let’s stay humble. Nevertheless, I have to admit there is a specific one that keeps on leaving me flabbergasted. “You’re black, how could you be French? You don’t even have a French accent.”
I usually take a deep breath and make sure I answer in the nicest way possible. Before I answer the question, let me explain to you why this specifically bothers me. First of all, it seems like the person I am talking to is questioning my identity and thinks I am lying. Two, they want me to justify myself, like I did something wrong. Finally, no one likes being contradicted.
There are better way to ask. “What is your background?” or “Where are you originally from?” would be the best and more appropriate. Now here’s to the story of what, how and why.
My parents were born in Africa. My mother was born in Mali (West Africa) and my dad is from The Republic of Congo (Central Africa), two places very apart from each other. When they were younger, my grandparents sent them to France to go to school. They happened to meet in France, in college, through a mutual friend, and a few years later, they got married and had my brother and I. Coming from two different places, they never spoke anything but French to each other at home. French is actually the primary language in Congo and Mali but they also speak dialects.
I was born in Paris and spoke French all my life. I’ve never had to question myself about who I was. In France, my color defines me as Malian and Congolese. In the United States, I define myself as French because it is the only culture I know everything about and can relate to. My education was based on respect and family, which are two important traits in the overall African culture, but my parents never attempted to raise me the African way.
When I meet somebody who was actually born and raised in Africa, they expect me to tell them that I am from Mali and Congo. When I say France, I get a “Where are you really from?” Little did they know that I am what I say I am. My heart will always be French and this is how I will always identify myself no matter what. I have been to Mali once when I was born, and to Congo for three weeks when I was 14, and that is about it. Sometimes, the only thing linking me to my African sisters is that we are black.
I would hate to think those questions are asked out of jealousy, but they say I am too French for my skin color. There will never be such a thing as being too French, my dear. Every individual should be able to decide what he or she wants to be called, if they want to stand in the middle or pick a side. I guess “African-French” is the perfect term for me.
Skin color still remains a non-factor in my world, and in yours too, I hope.