I sat in our study lounge for the fourth consecutive hour, when my phone flashed with a message from my mom. As usual, she was sending me mouth-watering pictures of Indian delicacies for the festival season – sweets and savory items alike. I missed home so so much as I chewed on a sandwich that I had prepared eight hours ago. I wanted to teleport back to some good food, some Indian food, my mother’s food. As I tried to focus on practicing linear algebra, my hunger kept bringing me back to the food topic until my friend offered me some dry mango.
Now if you’re Indian, you would know that a mango is the king of fruits. Rightly so, since our motherland is home to over 1500 varieties of this fruit. So hunger or no hunger, the offer brought back memories of juicy Alphonso mangoes I’d eat in India, a raw mango drink Aam Panna, and even my grandmom’s special homemade mango pickle. And thus, I ate some dry mango. Fifteen minutes later, I found myself halfway through the packet and thrown into a ocean of emotions. I’d just gobbled up half of my friend’s snack in America. Was that rude? Or worse, was this indicative of one of two “international student” behaviors that the others talked about?
According to popular belief, international students are either children of extremely rich parents and thus have extravagant lifestyles or are studying at an American institution because their parents have somehow struggled to get them to this country of dreams for the hope of a better tomorrow. If you “belong” to the second category, you’ve seldom known comfort and happiness and you’re very likely to pounce on to it, just like I’d eaten the mango. In other words, the absence of the spectrum approach turned something as trivial as eating a snack with a friend, to an issue of me representing those of my kind, who account for over a million students at different universities across the country.
But is it really fair to judge the entire community based on a few individuals’ reactions? Is it even right to judge students like us as we make our way through starkly different cultures in the United States? While all students at the university level are busy dealing with stressors like midterms, finals and excessively competitive grading scales; paying too much attention to our surroundings can lead us to feeling out of place at several different levels – dressing sense, taste pallets and social behavior. To top it off, there are occasional comments like “oh international students don’t care so much about cleanliness anyway” or “don’t you love how clean Davis is, since you’re from India?” But in reality, I did care a lot about cleanliness and I grew up in Dubai, which is cleaner than Davis.
In a way however, my reflective self is grateful to these comments because they make me more aware of myself and my priorities. Furthermore, it has taught me to acknowledge, but then move away, from people who look for such indicators in their “friends.” Sometimes I wonder how my life here would be without some of the (very) kind and accepting people I was lucky enough to meet in this past year.
By: Radhika Marwaha