At the time I started writing this blog post, I was also getting ready to watch Super Bowl 52 (only the third Super Bowl I have ever watched) and that brings back memories for me. Watching the Super Bowl prompted me to think about how I spent the past 2 and a half years – what I’ve accomplished and whether I am proud of who I am after all this.
I’ve done a lot of things in my life. Some good, some bad, and some just straight up stupid. I decided to come to Ohio State (which turned out to be the best decision I have ever made). I decided to tell people that I’m from Cincinnati instead of Taiwan (which now I really regret). I decided to offer to buy this person behind me ice cream at Jeni’s. And I’ve decided to spend 10 hours watching 3 previous Ohio State football games on YouTube during finals week. I think you know which category those decisions go into.
To me, football isn’t just some sport that people watch. To me, football is what connected me with American culture. Before I came to Ohio State, all of my knowledge about football came from the movie, The Blind Side, and I had no idea that Ohio State even had a football team. During the first game of the 2015 season against Virginia Tech, some upperclassmen in my learning community hosted a watch party in their room. I went because I thought I wouldn’t have anything to talk about the next day if I didn’t go (I mean, I still had nothing to talk about even after I went because I couldn’t understand anything). My friend Alex Steitz was sitting next to me during that game and I told him that I knew nothing about football. He started explaining every single thing to me despite me understanding only about 2% of what he said. Little did he know, that was one of the first times I really felt welcomed here. We started to watch every OSU away game together and he would teach me more and more about football. I fell in love with the sport. I’ve been thinking about my identities and why I do certain things. It makes me think that the reason I love football so much is partly that it is where I found a friendship early on and partly that I think that it makes me more “American.”
Through my two and a half years at Ohio State, a lot has changed in my life and that caused me to constantly think about how my identity is changing. Yet, I was never able to really step back and say “Yeah, that is an accurate representation of me!” Even now I still don’t know what defines me and what I really identify with. In all the thinking I did, one thing really stood out to me: I’ve always been reluctant to tell people that I am an international student. Being an international student can have come negative connotations and it can mean certain restrictions for me legally and culturally. Every time when I have a conversation with someone and then they ask me where I am from, I have two choices: I can either be honest and say that I am from Taiwan, or I can “lie” and say I’m from Cincinnati because I’ve stayed with my Cousin in Cincinnati for a summer.
I’m proud of being a Taiwanese individual but all the “standard” follow-ups really exhaust me. The common response is usually “Wow, you speak English really well! I would’ve never guessed you’re not from the states.” And sometimes when the individual is interested in world politics, I would get asked “What do you think of the political struggle between China and Taiwan?” For the former, I understand that they are trying to give a genuine compliment but hearing it over and over again really frustrates me and made me not want to proactively say that I’m from Taiwan. For the latter, I’m a very non-confrontational and yet patriotic person, I will state my view and then try to steer the conversion away from that topic. But if I say that I’m from Cincinnati, the response I get is “Oh! This Ohio weather, right?” In this case, telling the alternative actually made my conversation a lot easier and a lot more “American”.
Most students at Ohio State don’t know that International students have a very different orientation than they did. Most students don’t know that international students are usually the last ones that schedule for classes for their first semester. Most students don’t know that international students are treated very differently than domestic students because of all the regulations and “initiatives.” I’d love to speak up for international students but there’s really not many ways of doing so. I’d love to help international students integrate with domestic students but there are not a whole lot of resources to make this possible. I’d love to see more international students represented in Ohio State community but I’ve only heard from domestic students that international students are part of the population that makes Ohio State more diverse. These constant downsides have made me not want to proactively identify myself as an international student. But now, I want to use this identity as an advantage.
Most of the time when we hear someone’s motivational story, when we hear how someone overcame their struggle, we think “Wow, that really inspires me” or “Wow, if they can overcome that, I think I can overcome my challenges, too!” It’s just like thinking “If the Eagles can win a Super Bowl with a backup QB, I can conquer this upcoming thing.” It’s not a bad thing to be inspired by a story, but we have to recognize that these stories are only being told because the struggle was overcome. How about those who are still struggling? How about those who are still having a tug-of-war with their destiny? I’ve met a lot of people and I’ve told a lot of story with an ending. But now, I want to start telling a story without an ending. I still struggle with acknowledging my identities, but I’m working on being proud of being an international student. I don’t want my identity to define me, but I don’t want to throw them in trash and ship it to landfill. Because even though I don’t think these things define me, they are a part of me. And it’s not about how these things make me who I am, it’s about how I want to use these things to empower me. I don’t know where this will take me or what this will bring me. But I know…
I am Willy.