Ironically, while growing up in a big city before moving to college, I did not connect with many individuals of different beliefs, cultures and backgrounds. I came to Johnson City with the same expectations that my friends in college would be comparable to those from high school. Although, when I came to college, I strongly connected with the international students and formed relationships and memories my freshman year that I will never forget.
It is an experience to be in a group of individuals with vastly different primary languages, religions, cultures and ideas and to sit down to talk about the world. Truly, I have learned so much from just listening to international students simply talk about their country and upbringing.
In Johnson City, it is easy to give into lies and false explanations regarding other countries. Before talking to many of the students last year, I was completely inaccurate in knowing many of the current financial situations and cultural trends of many countries. Luckily, I have found that the international students are not quick to judge; they simply want to shed some light on descriptions of their country and upbringing.
East Tennessee State University does a fantastic job of promoting difference and values of international students through many different programs and facilities, such as the International Buccaneer Buddy Program and the Multicultural Center. Without the stories the international students bring and share at ETSU, many people, including myself, would not be wholly changed for the better.
Today, I find myself willing to engage in activities and events I would have previously been hesitant due to the awkwardness of potential circumstances and misunderstandings. It is as easy as simply introducing yourself to an international student and continuing daily to ask them how their experience is unfolding in Johnson City. Many times, these students just need someone willing to talk to them and carefully listen.
Now, I am a part of the International Buccaneer Buddy Program and work at the Multicultural Center where I continue to engage with students who are studying abroad at ETSU. Frequently, both host events for the international students to meet others and get involved at ETSU through a variety of activities. My assigned buddy, Ifalade Minagbose Kenneth, is a graduate student from Nigeria, and has said to me that he deeply holds dear the relationships and conversations he continues to experience in Johnson City.
Take some time to seek out difference. Hopefully, you will meet people along the way who will change your life wholly for the better.