By the Rivers of Babylon

HAPPY ERROL BARROW DAY!

Well people, we back wid a vengeance! (so to speak). We want to keep this unique line of communication and resource that is PledgeAllegiance available to you.

It’s a fine day to be Bajan (as is everyday) and a better day for a relaunch!

On to business…

Every year, Barbados, like other Caribbean islands and lesser-developed nations, exports what is a most valuable commodity. We export young people (and the young at heart) whose goal is to further their education. Brilliant minds!

Many of you reading this belong to this group (after all, the mission of this blog is to keep you connected in our own way) & that is great.

But now you “are” an emigrant, a foreigner, different, a minority, African-American or Black (as opposed to Caribbean or Barbadian). Some people find it hard to wrap their head around the fact that the distinct intonation that is your unique accent is actually real, whether you are of African descent or not. I say that you “are” these things because, let’s face it; the society you’ll be trying to navigate will label you this way. This is how they will initially perceive you. For some, they will hold tight to that perception just to be comfortable. You don’t have to accept these labels, but it can be shock being thrust into a storm of cultural relations.

And so, one inevitably struggles with how to maintain aspects of oneself that are culturally related; and constantly presented with situations that, aware of it or not, are in fact markers along one’s journey to a well-assimilated individual or an individual experiencing difficulty defining oneself in a new culture. However, assimilation (the process of absorbing the culture and mores of another population or group) does not have to be synonymous with discarding/forgetting one’s past.

How do you navigate what is now a new reality, so to speak?

I asked my Facebook friends to weigh in on the topic by sharing any advice that they would give to foreign students coming to the US (read: any other country).

  • Be prepared to work hard.

Jah will bring forth milk & honey, yes. But it will only happen as long as you are aware that contrary to popular belief, The Land of Milk & Honey only exists where one is willing to raise the cows and milk them yourself; and become a beekeeper and bear some stings. Nothing will be given to you. Chances are because you are “different” you may have to work a little harder than every one else (sometimes just based off the fact that no one understands a word you are saying because of your accent). It is definitely a case of action speaking louder than words. If you put in the work and stay prepared, when the opportunities arise, they will allllways be yours.

  • “Us Americans can be rude, sometimes closed-minded, but don’t take it  personal. Most of us are good people.” – from an American friend

It is within the nature of a human being to fear what he or she does not understand… or at least avoid it. Just be yourself and make some friends. It is important to develop a social network. A strong supportive one doesn’t have to be large, but should be effective in adding to your experience positively while you are far away from home.

I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention the phenomenon that occurs when you are the only person, on campus or in your new locale that is of your origin. People automatically come to see you as the Representative of your culture, nationality, country; and you automatically become the archetype of what a(n) >insert your nationality here< is, & how a whole nationality behaves. Certainly there is a level of ignorance that must exist to comfortably place that burden on an individual. But the fact of the matter is that it happens. I am not telling you not to live your life the way you see fit and are happy to do. I am saying that like it or not you become the unofficial ambassador of a country, so choose an aspect of your life that you will be glad to accept the responsibility and act accordingly; whether that be academics, professional relationships, social interactions, athletics, etc.

  • Try not to get mix up in Babylon system!

As a former Resident Assistant, I have seen the effects irresponsibility has on many a foreign/international student career. There are rules at university (who knew???) and if you get caught breaking them you will suffer the consequences. In some cases offenses, alone or when repeated enough times, will land you a suspension or expulsion. Not being in school when on a student visa is a no-no, and the fastest way to find yourself back home before you even get a chance to make Dean’s List.

Beyond the penalties your college imposes, if your offense breaks the law, you will end up out of school. Do not pass go; do not collect your degree. You will be deported.

So I guess my advice would be… Don’t. Get. Caught. Juuust Kidding! Actually a major problem for us coming from countries where for example the drinking age is 16/17, is dealing with the alcohol laws in countries like the US (21???  Who does that??). In MY opinion (and not necessarily the opinion of anyone else who is associated with this blog), don’t get caught. I am saying that based on the assumption that telling you not to drink will be a waste of (internet)breath and you will do it anyway. Seriously though, be smart about the choices you make. And if you are breaking a rule, don’t earn the award for the idiot who posts the pictures on facebook or jeers at the security camera. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up.

  • Kiss the right person’s ass.

Ok so maybe these words are a bit harsh, so to be politically correct, in the words of Ms. D. Lashley herself, “Make strategic alliances – get personal and friendly with the staff in the bursar’s office and student affairs.”

This is valuable advice for life. Period. Find some one you like to interact with in each office that isn’t a hard ass (He/she doesn’t need to be your bff) and forge a genuine relationship with that person. On days when the money dad wired is coming via a sloth and you can’t make a payment, or your flight got cancelled and you can’t move out by the deadline, or you absolutely need to get into that class because it is a requirement, having a friendship with a bursar, a Residence life hall director, or a registrar is extremely helpful.

And last but not least, and of the most importance it seems,

  • Stay connected to your culture

This was the most offered piece of advice. It is also, in my opinion, the most valuable. This is how you stay grounded. This is how you do not forget who you are, where you came from, where you’re going and what it takes to get there. This is how assimilation, though not always smooth, becomes less of a stressor.

–       Communicate often with relatives and friends from back home. Sometimes all you need is to hear a familiar voice.

–       Join a group or an organization that relates to your culture. It’s a great way to meet people who share similar beliefs and have a similar background. Yes, I know, the point of college is to diversify, expand, and appreciate differences, & build new relationships. If you don’t join a group or you are not on a campus with a high population of Caribbean students, making connections with other international students is a good idea.

You will miss home. If you don’t miss home in its entirety you will miss aspects of it. The food, the music, the people, the language, the customs… at a minimum you will learn to appreciate all the thing that came together for you to have the absolutely unique and fantastic experience of a Bajan/Caribbean upbringing.

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