Identity struggles (A little inspiration from watching Super Bowl 52)

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.

Finding My Community @ tOSU

The Ohio State University was not what I expected both in a positive and negative sense.

Escaping the Brecksville Bubble

I came from a predominantly white high school in Brecksville, Ohio (20 minutes south of Cleveland) where you could count the total number of black students on two hands. People for the most part had similar beliefs, political views, lives and just general outlooks on life. And while I was used to living in that community for most of my life, and was definitely a part of it, I 100% felt sheltered from my identity and often felt I didn’t have a chance to find out what being unapologetically black meant for me. I told myself I’d go to college at a big school like Ohio State to escape the “Brecksville Bubble”, and essentially expose myself to more racial, religious, political, economic and even sexual diversity.

How I Found My Community

I did an early arrival program for the Bell National Resource Center’s (BNRC) Early Arrival Program for African American males. I knew this would be the first time I’d be surrounded by majority (all) black males in an academic setting, and not just at a family event or church setting. One would think I might be nervous being around such a variety of people, but it automatically felt right for me. There was about 50-60 of us who showed up three days early to move in and begin all of the BNRC events. We were split into cohorts of about 8-9 students, and we built relationships on smaller scales at first. We got very close with our groups early on and throughout the first couple of days because of all of the time spent together, but the last day we probably got the closest as we did a campus wide scavenger hunt starting at the ARC, going through West to North to South campus, and then all the way back to the ARC, all by running! It was a competition in which cohorts teamed up and faced each other, and to this day it’s one of my best experiences at Ohio State. I finally had the opportunity to feel unapologetically black and meet people and make friends with people who could relate to me better. Even now our cohort and group still keeps in contact, and I’m close with multiple people from the program.

A Little Wake-Up Call

At this point, my excitement was sky high and I was so ready for the year now that I had developed so many relationships with different types of people. However, I was brought back to some of the realities I would face after I was in the elevator of my residence hall (Park-Stradley) on the regular move-in day. I saw a white mother (you’ll understand why I had to mention her race in a moment) trying to get into the elevator before it closed, and I held it open for her. She said, “Thank you,” but her very next words were, “Oh, so what sports do you play here?” And my reaction to yet another microaggression was…

I said, “Uh…I don’t play any sports here.” and she said, “Oh…so you go to school here?” And I said, “Yes I do,” and she said, “Ok, so you like live here?” and once again I had to say, “Yes I do”. What could be a bigger buzzkill than to have tokenization and microagressions I was used to in high school become the same treatment I received on my first full day of college? Unfortunately, I’ve experienced microaggressions from several other people I met during the time I was here, even from my own roommate.
The lack of racial diversity relative to the size of Ohio State was another unexpected fact. About 6% of the total population is black, a percentage that is mostly made up of women.
There are only about 120 black males per class. That stat seems to be declining each year and is made up of primarily black athletes. This meant that the majority of black males in my class were at the BNRC and that even two classes of black males at a campus of 59,000 couldn’t fill up the seats of an entire lecture hall — a surprising realization for me.

But for that same reason, I became appreciative of an experience like the BNRC. It helped me get connected to Hale Hall and went to Office of Diversity and Inclusion events and allowed me the opportunity to meet other black students and form really strong relationships.Through my current role as a peer leader, as well as other opportunities I’ve taken advantage of on campus, I’ve been exposed to individuals from vastly different backgrounds that my own. These include others from different economic backgrounds, geographic regions, students with vastly different political and religious views, and peers with different sexual orientations and gender identities.  The opportunities I’ve taken advantage of have helped me to find myself and my community here on campus, and made me more holistic and open minded in the process.