Where Are You From?

Most of us can agree that transitioning into college is anxiety-filled. You have to learn where everything is on a completely unfamiliar campus, acclimate to a heavier course load and remember a ton of names and faces. I don’t know about you, but I am terrible at that. Furthermore, we are almost constantly on high alert to make a good first impression. These, I believe, are typical anxieties of a new college student; however, there is something even more anxiety-inducing that not everyone has to deal with. For me, one of the trickiest questions is “Where are you from?”

Some of you may understand this, but for the others who probably think I’m crazy, just hear me out. I identify myself as an international student, but I arguably might not be. I cannot answer “where are you from?” with a single place because I was born in China, lived in Maryland for three years, moved to Singapore for eleven years, moved to Connecticut to finish high school and now I’m here at Colgate University in small-town Hamilton, New York. On top of all of that, I spend my summers in Illinois, or occasionally Northern California, because that’s where family resides and my parents are now living in Bar Harbor, Maine.

All these places are intertwined threads of my life. Singapore is a huge part of my childhood, so it would feel weird to leave out that detail. At the same time, now that I’ve been away from it for more than two years and am not actually Singaporean, it would feel false to say I’m “from” there. I could say Connecticut, but truthfully, I barely know the state. And although Illinois has been the most consistent place in my life, only being there for two months out of the year hardly counts as “living” there.

Why am I talking about this? I believe where we come from is a huge part of what defines us. We come to Colgate from different places; for some, this may be their first move and for others, it’s their 13th. Learning about someone’s background helps us to better understand an individual and is a great way to learn about their culture. For example, one of my roommates is an international student from China, and she wishes to meet more of the domestic students. 

The issue for international students is that they come across many barriers at Colgate. Language can be quite difficult because accents tend to make it awkward and embarrassing to communicate, and both parties may eventually shy away from conversation after having to ask “what?” multiple times. Cultural references can leave people behind and left out, or even shamed for not knowing. The barriers are rarely intentional, but nonetheless, I believe people need to be more conscious of them and work toward their removal. It may be easier to stick with people from similar backgrounds, but college is all about

new experiences.