NOW YOU SEE ME: A SERIES DOCUMENTING THE STORIES OF INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
Displayed from April - December 2019 as a photo exhibition at the Asbury University Student Center
[Sponsored by Asbury University's Intercultural Affairs Office and Student Governance]
The Now You See Me Series is a collection of photographs highlighting the stories of Asbury students. The aim of this project is to give voice and visibility to the unique perspectives of the members of our community and to reflect the imago dei we believe is inherent in each individual.
Sometimes, being far away, you feel a little bit isolated, especially for me right now because there's so much going on at home. It's kind of fine because it’s so far away and doesn’t really affect anyone here, but at the same time there is so much going on at home but here no one even knows about it. There is some difficulty in that. People don’t understand what I’m going through when I’m nervous and worried. The future of my country is kind of being decided right now, and here people don’t understand it, but it’s not a problem of America. It’s just the situation I’m in.
Ukraine is really, really beautiful, and the people are really beautiful, and the culture. I’m really honored and I’m really proud to be Ukrainian, and I really want to be able to share my culture a little bit with people and invite them to come over sometime.
My perception of the US was a place full of opportunities, like the American Dream. You’ve heard about it; everyone’s heard about it. When I came here, the first thing I noticed was the pressure people feel to be culturally aware of things. They talk about diversity all the time, but I felt, to an extent, it was more about numbers.I came here when I was sixteen. I started college when I was sixteen, and it was just crazy. People were like, “I was so immature when I was your age.” That’s what everybody used to tell me. I was like, why were they immature? People back home... when you’re sixteen, you’re pretty much a young adult. You need to grow up, and that’s just how our values are. The values that I received from my parents and stuff did not necessarily match the values from people here, but I did learn more values from them. Coming here made me grow up even more. Since I was here on my own, there were no Central Americans whatsoever. There were a couple of people who spoke Spanish… nobody from Central America and of course not from Honduras. I thought I would feel isolated, but I found comfort in the international community, which at that point there were like twenty, especially because I didn’t have a lot of American friends. Like I said, I’ve learned a lot of values from them, but it’s just the fact that they see us as a number and not as an individual which just made me feel a little isolated when I first came, before I adapted and learned to reach out to people and got to know people.
The past year and a half I started an anime club with some friends. It sounds really dorky and lame, but it means a lot more to me than I let on because it’s one of those things where you like people who like the same things as you and that’s what friends are.
And that’s the one small thing you latch onto. It’s comforting and makes everything’s alright. When the caf serves good soup for once, you latch onto that. It’s the really small things in life that you kinda latch onto that make you think, “Hey, that’s good. That’s good enough.” That would be awesome if people could do that more… latch onto similarities over differences.
I’m really glad I went through army because I think it made me stronger as a person. One of my favorite memories was… we were in training in the deep jungle and it was my birthday. So my buddy in my section gave me one of those packet swiss rolls. I started crying. We were tired at the time and suddenly he was like, “hey man happy birthday,” and I was like, “what?” Like, back to the anime thing. It makes no sense that you would latch onto it because there’s no practical value in it, like what’s a swiss roll? But at the same time it’s everything. It’s more than just nothing. It was everything to me. When you have nothing you realize the small things matter. When you feel like you can’t get anything, anything you get means everything to you. And that’s something I’m continually experiencing.
Respect is a big deal in Nigeria. You have to respect people even though you don’t agree with them or though what they do isn’t entirely right. You still have to treat them with respect. It’s super important. Kids have to respect their elders and think before saying things.I watched a lot of Disney Channel and Nickelodeon before coming here. But my expectations and reality were really different. The biggest difference between Nigerian and American culture is...there’s a lot. I know my neighbors in Nigeria more than I know my neighbors here. When I go back to Nigeria, I know almost my entire street. I know everyone’s name.
Fun fact: I still haven’t eaten green beans even once since coming to America. I just don’t fancy them. I just started eating mashed potatoes like a year ago.
Da Xin Jin
Countries: China, Taiwan
My culture is both dissimilar and similar to the culture of China. One value I hold dear is quality, face-to-face time with people. But people here don’t understand. Even though they are with each other everyone is looking at Facebook. They didn’t meet my expectation of quality, face-to-face time. Conversation should be two ways. Many a time I try to make conversation and people are just looking at their phones.
According to my experience, Americans don’t tend to ask me any questions about my culture. I don’t mind whether they do or not. If they do, it would be great. But they usually don’t. I think it would be nice if they asked me questions like I ask them. It would also help me to reflect on myself and my culture, because I don’t
identify with one in particular.
Countries: Brazil, Guinea Bissau, Zimbabwe, Mozambique
Guinea Bissau is a very welcoming country. Everybody tries to help everybody. It’s part of the culture and puts everyone in the mindset of helping everybody. It was very hard to transition to America, which is an individualist society. I was always used to greeting strangers before coming to America. I tried to do that in America, but others would stare at me weirdly like “why are you talking to me?” So I learned to adjust. I am proud of who I am as an international. It’s 10,000 times better than anything else. Most of my friends are not American, but I have so many American friends too, and I feel comfortable around them. I wish there were more internationals because we do bring the salt to our school honestly.
Americans put a lot of cheese in food. It tastes good, but I really, really miss my country’s food.
People [in the US] are more reserved than we are in Hispanic countries. We are way touchier; we are honestly friendlier. An example is when I moved to Maryland for the first couple of weeks or months… every single girl thought I was hitting on her when I was just trying to make friends, so I had to change that. That didn’t happen at Asbury because I knew how it worked already.
I feel like [the US] is unique. It’s a mix of everything, and you can find something for you anywhere. You’ll find somewhere you can fit in because it’s a nation of immigrants, and you’ll find someone who relates to you.
We value food. We spend a lot of time preparing a meal when here that’s only reserved for Thanksgiving or Christmas, special dates. Here you just take something, throw it in the microwave, and then you just go and eat it, or eat out a lot. I’m more used to homemade food that gets to be elaborate everyday. Maybe not several hours like Thanksgiving but maybe more than five minutes.
We relate to people differently, meaning we use voice and don’t do it over text. I know several people back home who hate texting. I just know that, here, once I sent a voice note, and they were like, “Why did you send that? Just type it.”
American culture is very diverse and not homogenous.
I feel very welcomed by Americans. I personally never fit into any one category. Growing up, it was a little rough. I wanted to be like everybody else. But once I realized that I wasn’t meant to fit in everything fell into place and was perfect. And I think that’s what authenticity is all about. This is a really cliche quote, but I like it: I was born to be different, so why not stand out?
People tend to focus on the desert part of Egypt but not many people know Egypt has really nice beaches. I think when people stereotype Egypt they either associate it with terrorism or pyramids and all the ancient stuff. When people do it usually it’s out of ignorance, not because they mean to be mean.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or offend us.. Be yourself. We’re cool people. To us internationals, Americans are internationals. So when you think of yourselves that way you’ll see how we think of ourselves.
Countries: China, USA
I lived in a culture that was American in the home but Chinese outside. People would call me names like “white devil” or “tall nose” or “mixed blood” sometimes. And so because of that and all the exclusion I sort of came to the conclusion that I’m not Chinese. So I stayed within the quarters of my international school and my family. I didn’t really want to be part of the Chinese community. I disliked who I was and where I was. Because of that it sort of put me in a bad place and I guess that affected my behavior, too.
Then my parents took me out of their own school because I was going to be expelled. So I had to homeschool for awhile. But then, I don’t know, there might have been a sudden maturity. Different factors caused me to grow and mature in my relationship with Christ and how I understood the world around me. So I changed. I’m not perfect, but I had a change of mindset.
When I’m doing school here, I will feel terrible if I get a bad grade, even though I know I should not. So like, ingrained in me is this Asian mentality of success and achievement. But consciously I know that can be a negative thing. How I talk and how I react to things…
I don’t know, a lot of the times it’s Asian, how I understand things, because I’ve just lived in that culture for so long. Like when I notice things people do or what people say, like expressions and phrases, I’ll take them very literally because that’s the way I think they should be. It’s so interesting… I’ve always been taught not to blame other people, to take responsibility for myself. But then here it’s like there are so many aspects that determine what happens to us. So it’s interesting discovering how to live with those two mindsets.
Countries: Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria
When I think about race relations in this country, being
a Black African gets really complicated for me because
I have to work hard at relating to Black Americans even though I’m black too. There’s this kind of pressure to in some way understand what they’re going through so that I can be prepared for my own experiences with race. I never had to question my race back home. I was never black first and then other things second. I never identified myself in terms of the color of my skin. So being here was and still is very strange. Of course, living here in Wilmore the chances of encountering such a problem are slim, but I remember once I was walking back to my apartment and there was just this sudden realization that oh my gosh, I look different from everyone else, and I looked down at my arms, and I didn’t even recognize myself because I’m having to think of myself in a different way than I have before. It was a very striking moment.
I’ve always been able to adapt very easily and I take it as my journey through life and anything I pick up, like an accent, is just part of it all. That’s the thing: not feeling guilty about embracing another culture. I think that’s the key. Just getting rid of all that guilt and kind of owning the fact that this is where I’m at right now.
Chi Jing Leow
I’m from Malaysia. I spent 18 years there and I like Malaysian food...so much. You can Americanize my mind but you cannot Americanize my stomach. With the diversity of three different races, I think that’s what makes it so unique and delicious. Growing up in a multicultural society.... In my mind I always knew nationality is not your race. You can be from any race but be of the same nationality.
I might still be in a state of transition to be honest. When I first came I loved and embraced American culture so much until it was extreme, and I realized there were many things I didn’t like about it either. I then swung to the other extreme, which isn’t good. I think I’m still trying to find a balance. Now I realize there are both good and not-so-good things about American culture. I’ve learned to appreciate different values from different cultures.
Aron Daniel van Gooswilligen
Countries: Iceland, Norway, Paraguay, the Netherlands
I feel like I’m flexible, and I can quickly adapt to different cultures. I took a semester in Spain, and for me, it was no problem getting into the new society because I already spoke the language. I’m already used to moving around so I don't get as much culture shock. Also, it helps to see the world in different ways. I know what it’s like to live in a rich country where basically everyone gets what they want but I also know what it’s like to live in a poor country where they don’t have as much, yet they seem more thankful for what they have. I try not to be too proud of what I have or what I own because it’s not like I really deserve it, it’s just that I have been lucky and fortunate enough to grow up in a family from the first world.
My perception [of the US] was that everything is big and also people kind of seem a bit exaggerated. Always saying, “It’s the best thing I’ve ever had!” and “I’m dying for this, it’s so good!”. We’re more chill, and here they’re more super extreme about everything, like their expressions.
I can say something that I think is kind of cool about Iceland. Since we’re so few, there’s not a lot of us so we’re all related to each other, like everyone. It goes up to 11 generations, so we have an app where you can see how related you are to someone because sometimes you start dating someone and then you find out he/she is a close cousin to you. For me it’s not really that big if a problem since I’m only 25% Icelandic in my blood.
Haiti’s not a huge developed country, but everyone in it is happy even though they don’t have a lot. Everybody knows everybody. I think that’s Haiti.
I think communication in Haiti is big in families. In Haiti people tend to communicate a lot with each other in the house, but here you can be living in the same house and people barely see each other or talk to each other. Before I came, I thought the USA was where life is really good and you can do whatever you want. After I came I realized, yes, it is a place of opportunity but not everyone is happy. It’s not dreamland.
Because of my accent, people ask where I’m from. Sometimes people think I’m from Africa because of my skin color. I’m happy to be Haitian and of my history. A lot of our ancestors are African, and I’m proud of that. So I just clarify, yes, I’m African but I am not from Africa.
Countries: Uganda, USA, the Philippines
Every summer I would visit the US, so I always saw it as this incredible place. Walmart always excited me because in Uganda we didn’t have huge grocery stores like that where you could literally buy anything you wanted. The malls were huge. Every time I came, it was just an overwhelming experience and it made me really excited. The roads were smooth. In Uganda there’s a lot of potholes and bumps in the road. Here you can take hot shower whenever you want whereas there you have a water heater and you have to wait for the water to heat up and then you can take a hot shower, but even then, sometimes the water pressure wouldn’t be the best. Here electricity is so good, and you never have power outages, or the Wi-Fi is always strong, but there it was always a struggle. We had to light candles because the power would be out. Just little things like those made me be really grateful for the circumstances I’m living in because some people don’t get to have what Americans have. Sometimes they take it for granted. So, yeah, I just always saw the US as this really privileged place.
When I went to a public school here it was really hard for me to make friends just because there was a gap in [between] our cultures and also because they took a lot of things for granted. It’s like we couldn’t connect in that way. The more I live here, sometimes I fear I’m becoming too privileged. I think if I were to go back to Uganda right now, I would be like “oh, the water pressure is so bad” and complain. I don't want to become that person who just forgets my background and where I came from.
Countries: Korea, Thailand
Living in a dorm… I had dorm parents who know
my flaws. They know that I can be really dishonest, especially when it comes to video games. They know that I’m a human being. During break, I would treasure the time I had with my parents. I was just a bright, cheery guy around them and the Thai people. I always paid attention to my parents’ words and advice. It’s really hard for me to show my bad sides to them I even though I want to because I don’t want to hurt their feelings. I don’t want to let them down.
I wish I were closer to my parents because I wasn’t able to show them who I truly am. My parents don’t know me that well. My parents don’t know how human nature plays a role in my life, too. Some of the struggles I went through during my dorm years, like puberty…
I wanted to spend that time with my parents just because that’s when I went crazy and made mistakes. I want them to know and relate to some of my struggles, too. I hated how my dorm parents know more about me than my actual parents. I would say to other students… treasure your family.
Countries: Malaysia, Singapore
I’d say I had culture shock when I first came to the US. My education had been very western, very American. I sounded American, but a lot of the social cues and cultural references I didn’t fully get. Pop culture
mostly translates, but I was like, “Why is everyone complimenting each other all the time and hugging each other?” People would say “I love you,” and I was like, No you don’t. You don’t even know me. I’m an extrovert, but I seemed like a total introvert when I first came. I also participated in an intense media program and, later, speech tournament with Americans who were super outgoing, and I was the only new student and the only international, so it was pretty overwhelming. But after a while I just picked it up and started hugging everyone too. People were friendly and welcoming, and that sort of prepared me for my college experience, so I didn’t have as much culture shock my freshman year.
Being a multicultural kid, I struggled very much at different points in my life with feeling like I didn’t belong to any geographical location. I’ve never felt a strong sense of national identity. I studied abroad in
the Middle East last spring in Jordan, Israel-Palestine, Morocco, and Egypt. I felt very much in between cultures because I spoke English, and so did the Americans and the Canadians I studied with, but I understood Jordanians in a way the rest of them didn’t because I was from Asia and from a more collectivist society. I struggled with that tension at points, but I also naturally love change and adapting to new people and learning new things. I think one way of viewing it is instead of I belong nowhere, I can belong anywhere.
Country: The Bahamas
So, I'm from Nassau. Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas which is located in the Caribbean. It has a lot of beaches. The population is predominantly black, but we do have White Bahamians as well.
We do speak English, but we have a dialect called Bahamian dialect. We just change a couple of words, pronunciations. We eat a lot of seafood.
Both my parents- they’re in ministry. My mother- she would wake me up in the morning, my sister and I, and we would have Bible studies all the time, like at 6 a.m. in the morning and stuff like that. I grew up like in the church. I'm talking about Monday night prayer meeting, Wednesday night service, youth meeting on Friday, Saturday morning prayer, Sunday morning [service] that was me. I grew up like that.
I guess in a sense I thought coming here it would probably be hard to fit in because where I come from in the Bahamas, you're taught to be extremely quiet, humble, be seen and not heard. I just didn't see Americans like that. I saw them as being very outspoken. In a sense
I even perceived a lot of them as being arrogant and stuff like that. Coming here and coming to Asbury... I can't put everyone in that category. Now that I'm here, I don't know what I see America as. When it comes to economics and financial stability, compared to a lot of countries, they are kind of on top of the mountain.
When I first came to America my father warned me that people have a different sense of humor here. It was the first time I was traveling in a new place alone, so that was the advice he gave me. At first I stayed quiet to really observe the differences in culture here, and yes,
I realized people here have a very different sense of humor. It’s hard to explain but some stuff people do and say here are just not funny to me. Other things I laugh about are just not funny here. Some stuff is also hard to translate, and I don’t know how to translate some slang
I use in Argentina.
The biggest difference between here and Argentina is meal times. I used to eat dinner around 10 or 11p.m. in Argentina, and now I eat dinner at 5 or 6p.m. It’s been a huge change for me. In Argentina, we have breakfast at 9, lunch at 12, then we have another “breakfast” called merienda at 6p.m.,when we eat something small like a cereal bar, and then dinner late at night. Now I have adjusted to the meal times here.
I-Hung Wu (Alex)
For me, transitioning to America was okay. I didn’t have culture shock. I don’t know why. My father is an open-minded person, so he would encourage us to do whatever we want to do and also encourage us to read books outside of class. I also watched Discovery channel with him a lot during my high school years. I think that’s one of the reasons why I was always taught to be open-minded.
It is hard for me to learn in English here. It’s easier to
study when I translate things into Chinese using Google Translate. Last semester I studied psychology, and I totally did not understand it in English. But when I used Google Translate I found the material extremely easy. Classes here require a lot of reading… that’s very tough for me. Other international students may may not struggle as much as me in English.
I have been swimming for 12 years. I hope to become a swimming coach. I want to swim for Jesus. I want swim for Jesus, for my family, for my country.
Countries: Korea, Yemen, New Zealand, Jordan
My parents told me really early that we were going to be living overseas.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and they have been in war since 2015. When Yemeni refugees came to Korea, I understood both sides. I understood why Koreans were mad and why Korean citizens were like, “we should kick them out because there were refugees in Europe that caused social issues.” So I knew people were afraid of that. But because I had lived in Yemen I understood their side, their stories. A lot of the people in the world globally don’t know about these issues. It is the 21st century, and, yes, wars are still happening in so many different countries. I think many more people should know about it. The issue should be known. I still see hope, not hope as in seeing an end to wars, but at least I can try to give them something that will make a difference in their lives.
My folks are both Christians. They are very staunch Christians. I’ve been going to church since I can remember. It’s been an awesome journey. There have been ups and downs. Lots and loads, actually,
of challenges along the way, so many bumps. Sometimes you feel like giving up, sometimes you feel like God has left you, sometimes you feel like you’re alone in this world, but He always finds a way to, you know, cover us, show us his grace in one way or another, especially when you least expect it. The eleventh hour, that’s what my mom loves to say.
I love my culture. I love my roots. I’ll never change that. I’ll always hold them in such high regard. The thing I love the most is the fact that we are friendly people and always welcoming and we always want to share and help out neighbors and people in need. It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. That’s what my parents always tell me.
The culture shock is real. I don’t think I’ll get over that. Probably when I stay here for a dozen years, maybe that’s probably when i'll get used to the change. Up until now it’s still the same.
Countries: India, Hong Kong, China
My parents speak our native language called Kasi. But
I can also speak some Cantonese and Mandarin, and English, obviously. When I hear my native language spoken (Kasi), that feels like “home.” Home isn’t a location. It’s more like when I’m with my parents… that’s when it feels like home.
It’s easy to stereotype India as “Oh I like curry, flatbread, and naan, or you guys like to dance a lot.” People bring that up in China, but it’s because the culture is very homogenous. China didn’t open up till ‘89. It’s still very new to other cultures.
When I was younger in China they would think I’m African or they would call me black or whatever. I guess I just didn’t really care. When I was younger it did affect me but now it doesn’t matter because they don’t know me. Also, I met way more good Chinese people than ignorant ones so I don’t think it’s a racist culture there are just racist individuals. But there are a lot more people who are interested than people who are looking down on you. They just don’t know.