Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Students discuss "Coming to America" for International Education Week

Panelists (L-R) included: Pasang Sherpa (panel organizer), Sonam Sherpa, Dr. Aakriti Tandon (Assistant Professor of Political Science), Elvira Zaykova, Johanes (Jacob) Tacastacas, Tsering Choedon, Carla Hernandez (front), Kimberley Maende, Zahra Nayyeri, Amie Dukuray, and Sophia Ng (Global Programs Office). (Photo courtesy of Pasang Sherpa)

By: Dr. Aakriti Tandon

The Offices of Global Programs and Housing & Residence Life jointly sponsored a student panel on Coming to America on November 19, 2013, to honor International Education Week at Daemen College. The panel was moderated by Dr. Aakriti Tandon, Assistant Professor of Political Science in the History & Political Science Department, and organized by Daemen student Pasang Sherpa. A wide range of countries were represented by the panelists, who included Carla Hernandez (Mexico), Zahra Nayyeri (Iran), Sonam Sherpa (Nepal), Elvira Zaykova (Ukraine), Amie Dukuray (Zimbabwe), Kimberley Maende (Kenya), Tsering Choedon (Tibet), and Johanes Tacastacas (Philippines).

Panelists Elvira Zaykova, Amie Dukuray, Sonan Sherpa, and Kimberley Maende, with Dr. Aakriti Tandon. (Photo courtesy of Pasang Sherpa.)
Several students shared their experiences of culture shock they experienced when they first settled in the United States. The perceived cultural differences ranged from food choices to holiday celebrations to dating and the education system. Some common themes emerged in spite of the very diverse experience of the panelists. Almost all of them felt they had been stereotyped at some point in their stay in America. The students felt that there was a lack of awareness regarding their home countries and some had taken it upon themselves to educate their classmates about their culture and traditions, thereby discouraging certain stereotypes. Kimberley said that she had been questioned if she grew up in the vicinity of lions and lived in a hut back in Africa. Tsering explained that she was constantly asked if she was from China, Japan or Korea. She has often had to show Tibet on a map to her classmates and frequently attempts to share the history and culture of Tibet with her friends. Amie has adopted a similar approach, trying to debunk the myth that Africa is one giant country.

Panelists & some of the audience members at the "Coming to America" event

Almost all the panelists concurred that their family, relatives and friends back home felt that they were rich because they lived in America. Sitcoms and Hollywood movies had led them all to believe that America was the land of the rich where "money grows on trees," to use an old cliche. The panelists had often been asked to bring back expensive gifts, symbols of American capitalism. Carla Hernandez, a History major and Pre-law minor, explained that she always brought back keychains from the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State building for her family and friends in Mexico. She also stressed that people in Mexico don't all "wear sombreros" or "eat tacos." The country has a rich variety of food and people, and she would like to share these experiences with her classmates. Opportunities like this enable students to enhance their college experience. The panelists expressed concern about how many Americans know very little about many countries in the world and stressed the need for education in global history and geography.

(For more information about study abroad opportunities, please contact Ms. Sophia Ng of the Global Programs Office.)

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