A melting pot of cultures

As I listened to the news this week and continued to pursue this story, I realized its need. Some students who read the last one told me that they had no idea Castleton has international students. One sat at lunch with a student from the first story. This student told me that, even though she was from here, she shared some of the same experiences and appreciated the story for informing her. I was worried as to how students would react to such an article and to know that I can maybe bridge a small gap doing what I love, writing is a pleasure. Talking with these students has been an eye-opening experience (Majur almost had me on the brink of tears as he explained his story and his ambitions). I’m ultimately satisfied with everything, yet I agree with many of the students in the regard that Castleton needs some sort of group to support all its students needs, especially those from other countries and backgrounds.

Intercultural understanding is something that can enrich us. I have been enriched. Cristiana thanked me and I ultimately gained a little bit of understanding from these students who are often not heard from so much.

Taking life as it comes

My name is Majur Makor. I come from a small town of Bor, the Upper Nile Province, located in southern Sudan. I left my country as a result of a war: civil war, and war to neighboring countries, Ethiopia and Kenya.

I was encouraged by my father to leave and get an education wherever it might be, and to get out of the war that many people in my area suffered dearly.

I went to Kenya where I was able to finish my secondary school certificate. After school, I began to have access to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), responsible for coordinating the process of people hoping to resettle to countries such as, Australia, the Netherlands and the United States.

Only people that came from war affected areas were promised acceptance. That’s how my journey began.

I was admitted to the United States in 2003 and eventually ended up in Vermont through the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program (VRRP). I was placed with a host family from Underhill, Vermont who helped me adjust. My new life in the states was totally foreign and I had to experience a lot of changes such as: seasonal changes, snow, American culture, and American English. I speak Dinka, my native language, as well as Arabic, Swahili, and English.

However, my education resumed through a tutor to improve my English, math, and slang as well. I had to pass a GED, SAT, TOEFL, and any other requirement for college. I ended up at Castleton because of a friend’s recommendation of it being a small school with a good student to teacher ratio.

My first impression of Castleton was terrible. I didn’t know many people except a friend from Burlington. It was hard to get along because Castleton, at that time, seemed to have what I would call ‘colonies’: a group of people he or she belongs to. I began to ask myself one day “Is this a place I really want to be?”

My past experiences growing up in war torn Sudan and other countries have taught me patience and to take life as it comes. I began to make friends my second semester and found that Castleton isn’t such a bad place after all. Among all, English proves to remain a challenge in both speech and writing. My professors have been very helpful, especially in English, and I’m thankful for that. Some are very appreciative knowing that there is a student from a different culture, and that makes me feel acknowledged.

I would like to admit that there is no support of any kind for international students here at Castleton. It’s hard to be around people who don’t acknowledge you. Most people favor “diversity” here at Castleton. Diversity isn’t bad, and diversity does not only mean having international students either, but it means helping those here adjust, hearing their concerns, and recognizing them.

That would be a good direction and I don’t see the administration trying to make this work. I would like to see a club or organization solely to focus on the needs and concerns of international students. This would help other students understand our backgrounds and most importantly make us feel welcome and truly part of the Castleton community.

An acquired taste

My name is Waffa Evaji. My mother is Lebanese, my father is Iranian, and I was born in the United Arab Emirates. When my family first moved to the US in 1990 from the Middle East, we didn’t know anything – the language, the food, the culture, etc. However, over time we all learned. My siblings and I learned these things from school and my parents learned from watching TV.

As the years passed, my parents began to learn more and more about the culture in the United States. Did my father really accept the culture? Yes and no. He accepted them in the way that he understands it is the way it is, but he doesn’t accept them because he doesn’t want his family to become “Americanized”. However, naturally, this would happen. My brothers and sister have become Americanized.

Growing up in school, people were always curious. They would constantly ask me to say something in Arabic and would ask me about how things are in the Middle East. Of course I was picked on for my name for obvious reasons, in middle school. As a growing adolescent, naturally, I wasn’t happy about it. But as I got older, I learned to accept and have fun with my name. I love it and what it means!

The food is another transition. Because our meals are completely different from American foods, it is harder to get used to. Our food is not hamburgers and fries; it is a pot of goodness filled with a lot of spices – nothing is bland! Because of the mix of spices, it is hard for people to enjoy such a meal right off the bat – I guess it is an acquired taste.

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