Accents, languages, colors, heights and genders flow through the classrooms here at Ohio State. One chilly night last semester, this generic classroom turned into a unique experience: International students from around the world, in-state students and out-of-state students all sat in small groups listening to each other’s obstacles, aspirations, favorite foods and more. This is what makes this place our home. We pride ourselves in this beautiful academic diversity. Sponsored by our student government’s EndHateOSU campaign, I was inspired.
We discussed real issues that international students face on campus — discrimination, cultural obstacles and language barriers — while simultaneously addressing parallel issues of domestic students. I remember one student explained how often there will be two international students talking and she wants to invite them to a social gathering, but because of the language barrier, she doesn’t know the appropriate time to interrupt the conversation — for all she knows they could be breaking up or be in a fight! Another student explained the specific cultural differences of accommodation: In one country, cultural accommodation is polite, whereas in others it is seen as an insult. The whole experience was eye-opening.
OSU has given me the space to challenge my ideas by creating my own personal experiences. With the rage in the Middle East, I became intellectually curious. Just as international students have the bravery to challenge their own culture and customs to come learn here and to become Buckeyes, I also stepped out of my comfort zone to see the reality on the ground in the Middle East. I traveled to the only democracy there, the state of Israel, where I peeked from the hilltops overlooking into Syria, into Jordan and into Lebanon. Internally, I saw the relationship of Palestinians and Israelis alike and learned that the reality is much different than that portrayed in the media.
At this event, our international and domestic peers explained the damage that cultural stereotypes can create: larger than imaginable. So too, the stereotypes that I entered college with were challenged, forcing me to create a reality of transparent truth. I learned that despite all of the conflict that we see in the Middle East, they are still people with families trying to make a living and raise their families. I saw hospitals with Arab and Israeli doctors alike, working together, performing lifesaving heart surgeries on children from impoverished countries without pediatric cardiovascular surgeons, giving them and their families new life.
College is a place of free-flowing ideas, a place where your knowledge and values should be challenged. It’s an institution that gives us the ability to see the world through a different lens; to travel the world to volunteer, interact, research; and the experiences are immeasurable. We all should get comfortable to feel uncomfortable in order to learn, to gain empathy and to become more compassionate global citizens. College is a unique time and experience to learn from our peers and this event opened my eyes to how much we can learn from our international peers. I urge all students to take a second, reach out to a student you have never met before, and open up to him or her. The friendships that you can make and the things you will learn from one another are immeasurable.
Fourth-year in microbiology