CultureEducation

“I honestly believe if people traveled more often, there would be less conflict because there would be more understanding.” I said this in my Youth Spotlight last week, and I meant it with all my heart. Traveling is a powerful educational tool for everyone and, I believe, is especially eye opening for minority youth like myself. Let me tell you why.

With cultural tensions spewed across the news and social media platforms as of late, people seem quick to grab onto fear before attempting to peacefully resolve a misunderstanding. We are all guilty of being fearful sometimes, but let’s remember, fear is only a result of unfamiliarity. For example, you may be terrified of insects until you watch the Discovery Channel and learn the many ways they help protect us from even scarier things like low crop yields and a massive buildup of animal waste (no, thank you!). Suddenly, you’ll think twice before stepping on the little creatures that are more helpful than we think, and this is all thanks to a bit of new knowledge.

The same concept goes for people. In my personal experiences as a young minority woman traveling, I have often found myself in places where no one looks like me. For some of you, whether Black, Asian, Hispanic, a lovely mix and so on, this might sound familiar. It can be awkward at times, but always eye-opening and beneficial for all parties involved. Travel is absolutely transformative for minority youth in three major ways.

First, it allows those unfamiliar with your culture to become more familiar. When I traveled to New Zealand a few years ago, I never saw another black person during the trip, aside from the few traveling with me in the tour group. This doesn’t mean black people don’t exist in New Zealand; I just never crossed paths with any. During my home stay with a Kiwi family (the native minority population in the country), they told me they’d never had any black friends before and I said I’d never had any Kiwi friends before. At first they were timid to ask pressing questions about my culture, but eventually conversation began flowing as I told them about ridiculous stereotypes that exist in America, the daily struggles faced, and about my personal family history. They reciprocated by telling me about theirs. As native New Zealanders, many of their experiences were similar to mine, as a black American. Who would have known? By the end of the conversation, we could all say we were friends. Pretty good ones, at that. Just think about it – if discussions like this would happen more frequently, there would be much more respect than conflict.

Not only does traveling teach others about you, but it can also teach you about your own culture. Every time you go to a new location, you unlock a part of yourself you didn’t know existed. For example, when I went to Paris for the first time in high school, I learned about how many black Americans in the 1920’s hopped the Atlantic and settled in the City of Lights. Many did this because they felt race was not as much of a hindrance to living a happy life in Paris as it was in America. There were more job opportunities, a booming arts industry, and less violent racism. I found it so interesting to learn about how people like me lived in other countries in the past, and are still living there today. Traveling to Paris expanded my mindset and, in a sense, gave me a newfound sense of my own identity within the world and its history.

Last but surely not least, travel has the power to make the variety of race seem minuscule compared to the unity of humanness. What I mean by this is that through exploring new areas, speaking to new people, immersing yourself in a different society, and catching a glimpse into how others live, similarities across cultures are more evident than any differences could ever be. We all struggle to find ourselves. We all get lazy, grumpy, giggly, frustrated, happy, and jealous at times. We all laugh at our own jokes, have secret crushes on people who don’t know who we are, and have blood flowing through our veins. You get the point. But mostly, we all want to just be happy.

So, whether you are thinking about traveling to another country, a new town, or a new school, I want to encourage you to go for it… for yourself, and for all of us.

Image: Jay Mantri

CollegeCulture

This past weekend I went out for Greek life recruitment at my college. It was an amazing experience and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. But what I realized the most during this process is how important it is to be you and stay true to yourself, no matter how corny and cliché that may sound.

Throughout the weekend, I was brought into rooms filled with girls, most of which I had never met before. I made small talk and found people who I clicked with, and who I really felt comfortable with. When I walked into a room and found someone I could completely be myself and let my guard down around, it made me realize how important it is to just be you.

They say that when you’re going out for a sorority you’re supposed to go with the chapter that you feel most at home with and that you’ll know where you belong. When I would talk to different girls, I asked them how they knew their sorority was the one for them. They all answered that the sorority for you is the one that you feel like you don’t have to try to be someone else in.

That’s what made me realize how important it is to be myself. I ended up meeting girls just like me and girls I could see myself being future sorority sisters with. And while Greek life isn’t for everyone, the fact of being who you are and not changing to fit in still stands true. All of your quirks and imperfections make you who you are in the best way, and that is something you should never take for granted. It’s old, catchy, and a little bit overplayed, but Bruno Mars says it best: you’re amazing just the way you are.

Schedule Breakdown: Recruitment Weekend and Greek Life

At my university, spring recruitment is split into three days over a single weekend. We are split into smaller groups of around 30 girls to make the overall process easier. On the first day, a Friday, we visited six rooms. Each room represented the six different sororities on my campus and I visited each for 30 minutes. I was paired with a girl and learned more about her as she learned more about me, watched a video on their organization, and talked to more girls in order to get a feel for who I felt most comfortable with. At the end of the day, I voted for my top four sororities and my bottom two in ranking order. Which sorority you get called back to is based on mutual selection – you have to want to spend more time with them, and they have to also want to spend more time with you.

The second day you could be called back to a maximum of four rooms. I received my call that morning and was called back to my top four. This time, I was in each room for a total of 45 minutes. I talked with more girls in each sorority and also watched a video on their philanthropy. At the end of the day I picked my top two rooms and ranked my bottom two.

On the final day I went to two rooms. These rooms were an hour each and really allowed me to get to know each sorority. They each showed me a traditional ceremony that they do in order for us to feel more at home and part of the sorority. I had a more intimate one-on-one conversation with a girl who chose to talk to me. This day really allowed me to know I was making the right decision. At the end of this day I had to rank the two sororities. Then on Monday at 10PM, my bid was revealed and I found out which sorority I was in.

Being in a sorority gives you sisters and lifelong friends. Not only does they give you close relationships with people who have the same interests and mindsets as you, but they allow you to really work towards helping a good cause. Choosing a sorority that has a philanthropy that you believe in and support is also something that comes with Greek life. The community service and bonds that you form along with the involvement in campus that comes with being in a sorority is something that truly allows you to make your college experience a memorable one.

Image: Courtesy of Nicolette Pezza

CultureRead, Watch, Do

Use the weekend to catch up on things you didn’t have time for during the week. Take a couple of hours for some reading, watching, and doing.

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ReadThe Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. Keeping in theme with the Leadership Trait of the Week, Courage, The Alchemist is a true story of facing fears and the risk Santiago takes leaving his home in Spain to embark on his journey.

Watch: The Up Series by Michael Apted.

Do: Catch up with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while.