I will never forget the look of joy on my friend’s face the first time she experienced snow.
It was surreal to me. Coming from New York, snow has been a constant and beautiful addition to my winters ever since I was born. The snow days, snow ball fights, and sledding with my friends—it was all so normal to me. But since coming to Kenyon, I have learned that what may seem “normal” to me is really just a facet of living in the northeast of the United States.
That realization first came to me when I met my friend Rebekah, a native South African, during our first year at Kenyon. It was another cold November night in Norton Hall way back in the good ol’ days of 2018. I suddenly heard a shriek of what could have been joy or terror coming from downstairs. I raced down to find Rebekah dancing in the snow as if it were stardust. “Snow” is a generous description. It was really just the lightest of flurries, nothing that I would normally have cared about. But watching how overjoyed my friend was at the flurries made me realize how simple things I experience all the time can be so special to others.
In the four years I have been here, I have found myself spending most of my time with international students like Rebekah. They tell me about the politics and religion of their home countries, as well as more personal details like what their favorite hometown songs are. I have learned things as complex as the unique grammar rules in the Arabic language to things as simple as the fact that Russians are obsessed with bananas!
On the flip side, I have learned things about my own country through watching my international friends experience and observe the United States. One friend of mine from Kenya was amazed at how many Americans at Kenyon aren’t religious. For over an hour, we discussed the general differences in the way people our age in Kenya versus America practice religion, which really made me think about just how much of a spectrum our country’s religiosity is on. One of the biggest culture shocks to me, though, was apparently how bland our meat is in the States! I was stunned the first time my friend from Nigeria showed me her rack of spices…I will never be able to eat plain chicken ever again.
You would think I would have all the cultural experiences I would ever need at my fingertips coming from New York, but reading about a place in a textbook or learning about it in a museum is entirely different than speaking to students from those countries.
Since coming to Kenyon, I have become more of a well-rounded global citizen than I ever was back home, and much more motivated to continue learning about the news and culture of other countries. Plus, how else am I supposed to learn about the different ethnic groups in Ghana or receive invitations to friend’s hometowns that are thousands of miles away?! But honestly, through the relationships I have developed and the engaging conversations I have had in our little town of Gambier, part of me feels like I have already traveled around the world.