The Aliens Being a Foreign Student | 2013-02-21 13:59

It's very difficult to get a chance to come to the U.S. I came to a country which ?I've found it personally difficult sometimes?people have a totally different set of opinions. They don't even want to give you a visa. I just found it difficult to adjust. Singapore and America are actually very similar. We just have different takes on things - on anything from food to movies. Phones. The big bookstores. The amazing range of opportunities. The fast food, the movies. You know, our cultures are different.
Iga Czarnawska (Poland): The day I got off a bus in the middle of the Dartmouth College campus, I didn't know that I had landed on another planet. Though I knew I was on my own, I considered myself a confident and self-aware young woman.
Yet, as weeks and months went by, I felt an inexplicable sadness creep up on me. There was a gnawing emptiness inside me; I felt as if I couldn't make out the contours of the reality that surrounded me. Things were so different.
I was bombarded with the question, "How do you like it here?" And I often felt at a loss - not knowing what to answer. Some things I loved, some things I loathed. I felt confused. I didn't know if I was happy. Things were different.
Fortunately, the International Office at Dartmouth provided support and opportunities to partake in several panel discussions. Thanks to them, I realized that initially most of us international students feel like "fish out of water."
We might have laughed at the official nomenclature of American immigration, which calls us "aliens," yet this is what we were. Like aliens coming to another planet, we often do not understand the rules that govern this new and different world around us.
To what better end could I apply my love of filmmaking than to speak out, and to help people understand the issues of diversity, of identity, and of communication across cultural barriers?
I grabbed a camera and started interviewing my fellow students.
The "How Are You?" Question
Michaella Frederick (Trinidad): In Trinidad, if someone comes up to you and says, "Hi, how are you?" you're expected to stop what you are doing, say "Hi, How are you?" and tell them how you are - "Oh, girl, yesterday this happened to me," and "I'm not too well, you know. My back is hurting, and? But that didn't happen here. So, that was a little off-putting because at the time I didn't know what was normal or what was not normal, because everything was not normal to me. Everything was just very, very different. I remember speaking to my roommate about it, and she told me that it's not meant personally - it's just the way that people do things here.
Delegates from Outer Space
Iga Czarnawska (Poland): What was the strangest was the different social role that university has over here. Well, I came here knowing for about five years that what I want to do is film. And people would ask me, "Oh, have you thought about your major yet?" And I say, "Well, yes, I came here in order to major in film. And then they ask me, "C'mon, wait a minute - what year are you again?" and "Oh, you are only a freshman. Oh well, you will change your mind a hundred times. You cannot possibly know what you want to do."
Aliens Study
Jai Danani (India): I didn't have a hard time going into the classes, because the teachers that I had before used to teach like that, so I was used to it - where the classroom is very interactive, where the classroom is not ..; where you have a grade system that builds up to your grade. It isn't one entire grade at the end.
Milton Ochieng (Kenya): Three classes - I was really happy about that. I thought it was going to be pretty easy - you know, three classes. But I tell you - three classes, but whatever you're doing there, it's quite a lot of work.
Aliens Make Friends
Michaella Frederick (Trinidad): There's also a very different definition of privacy here at Dartmouth, as compared with in Trinidad, where your friends are allowed to get into your personal space. And I definitely saw that there was a greater region of personal space for people here. It affected my relationships with people because I wasn't too sure if the boundaries that they were setting were boundaries especially set for me, because they didn't want me to be particularly close to them, or if it just was a cultural norm here at Dartmouth.
Iga Czarnawska (Poland): I have some great American friends, but I always have to be aware of their culture and their way of being, which is just different than mine.
Those Alien Cultures
Michaella Frederick>(Trinidad): How much, exactly, should you volunteer to share with others? Because, in many cases, they know absolutely nothing about where you've come from. So if you just start telling them about who you are and where you've come from, they'll likely be really bored?/P>
Iga Czarnawska (Poland): I realized how Polish I am when I left Poland.

Chien-Wen Kung (Singapore): If you ask me whether I'm representing my culture, I would say in some ways, yes, but that culture itself is very amorphous; and in some ways, it's still being defined. And I'm not so much representing my culture as I am in the process of shaping it and defining it for the future.
Michaella Frederick (Trinidad): I [would] really appreciate it sometimes if the American students could remember that, in the same way that they, too, are trying new things and doing different things, which may not be characteristic of where they have come from and the experience they have had, so are we. So, everything that I do does not necessarily define what it means to be a Trinidadian.
Staying an Alien
Michaella Frederick>(Trinidad): How much, exactly, do I want to stand out and how much, exactly, do I want to fit in?
Chien-Wen Kung (Singapore): Before long, I was, you know, I was saying, "What's up?" and "How are you doing?" and even my accent, I mean, underwent some modulation.
Milton Ochieng (Kenya): You know there are certain things that you'd have to sort of leave, others good to take up, you know, and try to find just some balance.
Directed, filmed and edited by: Iga Czarnawska
Original Music by: John Marchesini
Light Design: Anna Parachkevovna
Also with: Ayorkor Mills-Tettey, Ognian Kassabov


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