Sunday, February 19, 2012

How to have the most fascinating college conversations

Have you ever had a conversation that made you think differently? College can be a rich reservoir for these fascinating exchanges.  

Even though I’m not in college anymore, I had some of those conversations this past Friday.

As a Student Activities Coordinator I worked with SGA to put on a small Diversity Fair where the international students on our campus set up a table with décor, information, and food from the country where they were from.

And in addition to eating unbelievable foods like yucca and rice cakes and trying on gorgeous head gear from the Bahamian festival Junkanoo, I learned things from students at our college that I hadn’t known before.

These students grew up in Tanzania, The Bahamas, and Vietnam and came here to start a new life, make a better life. These students overcame language barriers, cultural barriers, and are some of the most involved students I work with. They really care about their education and they inspire me every time I talk to them.

This past week, I learned so much more about their journeys, about their families still in their countries, about their loneliness, and about their determination. I learned about their foods, their festivals, their customs, and their culture.

We talked about how hard it is to learn a new culture, a new language, and drive on the “wrong” side of the road.

As I listened to these stories and I engaged with these students, I thought about how difficult it would be to adapt to an entirely new culture. I wondered what it would be like to adapt to that culture and it’s educational customs. And I thought about how determined you’d have to be to make it.

What strikes me every time I meet one of these students is how determined, excited, ambitious, and grateful they are. And learning more about their journey’s reminded me that there is this giant world out there that no matter how many movies we watch or books we read or classes we take we’ll never understand – because we’ve never lived it.

How many people walk around you in college every day who have lives you've never lived? How much could you learn from those lives? I promise you - it's a lot.

Be on the lookout for these kinds of conversations in your own life and let them open your mind. Create opportunities for them and cultivate them so that they yield the incredible fruits of new understanding.

Make an effort to get to know a wide variety of people at your college. Do what you can to expand your horizons with every conversation. Ask people their stories. Listen deeply.

You’ll make them feel like someone cares. And you might just learn something that expands your own mind in a forever kind of way.

One of the things I remember most poignantly was one of the students saying how lonely she felt. She mentioned a work-study student who sits at front desk of our small indoor campus, and how he says hi to her and calls her by name every day. You could see in her eyes that his “hello” and use of her name meant the world to her. It made her feel welcome.

Welcome a variety of people into your life. It will mean the world to them; and they might just open a whole new world for you. 

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