As an international student I have given so many opportunities to think about what I am doing here in the US. No, not in a negative light – and by the passive voice in the sentence before this, I try to tell that not only I think about the fact I am a foreigner, but also I am surrounded by factors that remind me that I am a foreigner.
Being a foreigner starts with (sometimes) traveling. A person learns about herself the most when she travels out of home to live in another country. I travelled out home for high school; it was a travel within the country, and then I travelled out of home for college in the US. Both transitions were interesting and sometimes difficult because of the cultural differences.
When I watched the Ted Talk “the Danger of a Single Story” I could relate to what Chimamanda Adichie told. Indeed usually a single story is told about most cultures, and people usually don’t bother to look or learn beyond. Superficiality is the base line for telling a single story and understanding a single story.
In the Introduction to Psychology course I took in my freshmen year, I remember we talked about “they all look the same to me phenomenon”. There are formal explanation and in-depth analysis on this phenomenon in the psychology world for those who are interested in the scientific reasons. I simply interpret it as how people from a less diverse environment see faces of a different culture as the same or very similar to differentiate. Apart from many scientific reasons and outcomes of this psychological phenomenon, I believe that it is also a cultural phenomenon where different races don’t mean much to the outside watchers.
I think the idea of seeing faces of different cultures similar can be linked to what Adichie is talking about – a single story of a culture that is foreign to us. Our brains play this game called “they all look the same to me” phenomenon, but it is not fair to blame science for it. In life we take it to another level by adding more prejudice, and thus we create single stories, which are only one superficial aspect of a culture. Race is not limited with the appearance. Appearance is a “single story”.
It is funny how we think about culture and race; even though we try to limit bias and prejudice, the fear of saying the wrong thing can hinder a sound communication between two people from different backgrounds. Sometimes people don’t interact because of the fear of misunderstanding, reinforcing the gap between differences.
As an international student, I was reminded that I am foreigner, not only by the loads of paperwork and visa documentations, but also by the culture. I experienced the “all look the same to me phenomenon” and I mixed up the faces of blond guys and girls. I also mixed up those whose eyes were different and whose skin color was different from mine. For me, it started with a single story for different cultures I didn’t know. As I shared with those people, I understood more about them, and differences disappeared. I learned about the world, cultures and myself.