“Where are you from?”
“I am from Kenya,” says Caroline Murigu, a freshman.
“Oh wow, so do you have lions in your house?”
Where people get these idea is what baffles many international students who have to answer weird, funny, and sometimes disturbing questions. Sometimes I try to blame the media, but at the same time I wonder why a college student still thinks Africans have lions lying around their houses.
This is one out of many stereotypes international students have to deal with. Not only do we have to say, “no, this is not right,” often times we are put in situations where we have to defend our home countries and tell people that we actually are not what they think we are. In my freshman year I had a friend who assumed I was going to school for free, and when I asked her why, she said because I was black. Was there really a scholarship here for being black that I didn’t know of, or was she just curious? I will never have an answer to that. When I told her that no, I was not going here for free, her next question was, “Is there an organization that is sponsoring you or how do you afford to come here?” It was then that it dawned on me that this question was beyond me being black; it had to do with me being from the continent of Africa. I realized that although she was my friend, she had already painted a different image of me in her head even before we got to know each other. I explained to her that I, like many African students here, are not sponsored by a “charity” organization as she thought. We have parents who work as doctors, engineers, professors, business owners among many other great professions, take good care of us and we can actually afford to come to college here in America without the help of a charity organization.
I have some Chinese friends who have had to explain to people that they are not math geniuses just because they are from China; they actually work hard to be good, not just at math, but other courses as well. Some are not even good at math. Like I stated before, stereotypes put many of us in very uncomfortable positions of having to defend not just ourselves but our countries, families and even continents. One Cobber told a friend of his “Hey, I know a girl that you like, she’s like Ahmari—loud, feisty and blunt.” Although Ahmari did not care that she was described like that, she strongly believed that those words were used to describe her because she was black, and on pointing that out to the student who made this statement to her he became offended. This person did not view her as an outgoing and social person; rather, he viewed her as loud, feisty and loud probably due to the mental image he had of a black woman.
One student has been asked about what it is to live in a war-torn country when in fact she has never experienced any sort of war or violence in her life. She was asked how she made it to the U.S. because the person asking thought that women from her country had no freedom and were expected to stay at home and do chores instead of getting a good education. Questions like this tend to make many international students wonder what people actually think about of other cultures. Before you ask someone a question, ask yourself how you would feel if the same question was thrown at you.
For example, if you were in a foreign land and someone asked you, “Oh I feel America is unsafe, because police shoot at innocent people all the time. How do you feel walking down the street at night?” Imagine the strength and courage it would take to defend America. That is the same strength and courage we use to defend ourselves and homes when we are stereotyped.
We know the media plays a huge role in influencing the thoughts of many people, but I challenge Cobbers to research and know their facts — because in order to BREW, you have to know real, not alternate facts. We are not your stereotype. We are people who live great lives in our country, even if it is not like America.