By Katherine Broassard, The Whetstone
On a Wednesday night at the Governors Café, I found myself sitting and philosophizing with some of the great minds of Wesley College. At this impromptu gathering, I was surrounded by politicians, businessmen, scholars, inventors and aspiring writers.
Over our second bowl of mixed nuts, a professor’s husband leaned in toward me asked me a question, “How do you culturally identify yourself?”
Little did he know, his question was a loaded gun.
You see, I’m a first generation American. My father is French, but was born in French-occupied Germany. His family lives in Canada now, but they will correct you if you call them French Canadian. My mother’s family has been living in Chicago, but they’re originally from Ireland.
I’m in love with a man who holds both British and American citizenship, and I’m moving to a country (Germany) which at one point enslaved my family, only a generation ago. My best friends are Chinese, Greek, African and Irish.
To top it off, I’m adopted. I’m incapable of even genetically defining myself because I’m not sure what that is. That’s why it was such a good question: How do I culturally define myself?
As the semester winds down, I watch as another class prepares itself to graduate. I, too, will be walking across that stage in May.
I will watch as nervous freshmen fill the dorm rooms with cars filled to the brim like Tetris puzzles, with first-time parents crying as they drive down State Street waving goodbye. What have you learned about yourself while being at college? Maybe you’ve learned that you really can procrastinate to that last hour and still get an A. Maybe you learned that Math, as you had originally thought, really isn’t your strong point. You’re never going to be the next Brittany Spears, you’re never going to be the next Albert Einstein, but, you do know how to make a mean orange-pineapple-sprite concoction using only the cafeteria drink dispensers.
So how would you answer that question? How do you culturally define yourself? Here’s how I did, or didn’t, do just that:
My parent’s raised me to be a globally aware person. I am worldly. I do not restrict myself to one cultural background. I do not culturally define myself.
I studied abroad. I ate chocolate churros in Spain. I danced in a fountain in Italy. I swapped life stories with a Frenchman. I’ve had a glass of scotch in Scotland. I learned how to dance in Ireland. I discovered my own beauty in Wales.
I discovered love and heartbreak in England. In Canada, I fell in love with nature. Back in the United States, I sat down, reflected, and discovered who I really was and who I wanted to be.
I studied abroad. I taught the British that we aren’t all cowboys, singing about our lost dogs while chewing on a piece of straw. I explained politely to an Italian, that, no, I’ve never been to Miami, and I do not personally know President Obama or Angelina Jolie. I made tacos for a woman in Ireland, and she laughed when the shell broke apart after one bite. I represented my country by not being a “stupid American,” which ironically is a term used more so for those of us who do not travel.
I implore you. Travel. Jump on one of the faculty-led trips. Become a foreign exchange student for a semester through ISEP. Join the Multicultural Student Union. Take time off after graduation to go explore. Find out what it means to be an American. Research your heritage. Become more culturally aware. Find out what defines you.
Understand how you would answer, “How do you culturally identify yourself?”