The American dream has always been a hot concept, from 20th century working class conformists to 21st century liberal international students.
My American dream consisted of two elements: college and heterogeneity.
After taking countless standardized tests, writing endless essays, scheduling stressful interviews, and trying to fit 18 years into a couple of application profile questions, I begged God to give me just one acceptance letter from an American college.
Now, here I am at UR, a small research school in suburban upstate New York. It took me 35 hours, three transit flights, eight cups of coffee, and 16 cigarettes to get here. So, every step of pre and post acceptance to an American college is a struggle.
But hey, it’s the American dream!
Then there’s orientation week, which included convocation, tours, good food, shows, concerts and information sessions. But, most importantly: parties.
By the end of the week, my American dream checklist was complete. I was in an American college, and I was surrounded by diverse people from various backgrounds. Everything was alright.
Well, sort of.
The last stage was post-orientation culture shock.
It was the crash after the high. All the colorful faces around me started to fade away. All the exciting mini-conversations started to sound like broken records. All the smiles thrown at me during the orientation turned hollow. The uniqueness I thought I had was nothing but evil uniformity masked by a label of “diversity”.
All those international personalities, accents, habits, and lifestyles were put in a single road. One in which the final destination is red, white and blue. With a diet cherry Mountain Dew on top.
The dress code is sweat-shorts, crew-neck t-shirts, knee socks and running shoes.
Here, we preach about how unhealthy smoking is while normalizing mac and cheese, burgers, and chocolate chip cookies as our three-course super-healthy American meal. Here, we advocate for free speech, as long as our opinions are politically correct. Here, we try to represent cultural minorities with “Celebrate Diversity” events, student associations, and cultural departments. Yet we still add a western twist, with a Cardi B song on the Middle Eastern belly dance performance.
It makes sense that American culture dominates on campus, and I have no problem with that. I love American culture. I am a Turkish man who has grown up watching High School Musical, munching on Burger King at night, and listening to Lana Del Rey.
But I find that other cultures do nothing but submerge themselves into being American.
This campus is a melting pot. But instead of getting a taste of everything in said pot, all the cultures here on campus converge into one culture: the American one.
I came here from an international high school called Eastern Mediterranean International School , located in Tel Aviv, Israel. There, I lived in a tiny dorm room with four people.
My roommates and I had a problem with pronouncing the sound “th”. So, Math was “Mat” for me, and “Mass” for my Ukrainian friend. We would listen to the melancholy of Lebanese artist Fairuz with our Palestinian friend. Then suddenly my Brazilian friend would play “Aquecimento das Maravilhas”, a Brazilian Twerk song, and we would find ourselves on the dance floor. When we got tired, we’d snack on my Turkish delights with some Ukrainian tea.
I was able to jam to Toxic by Britney Spears, play “Just Dance” with my American friend, and then play backgammon with my Israeli friend.
The international mixture at my school made its community embrace our differences. There was neither isolation nor judgment. My peers and I spoke our minds without filters. And our ideas and beliefs were constantly challenged.
This liberating environment expanded my vision and made me a confident, independent individual with well-defined ideals and goals. At UR, we have the same potential to create a welcoming and heterogeneous environment at a bigger scale. We just need to keep a few things in mind:
There is nothing wrong with having a thick accent (or as I would say, a “tick” accent). There is nothing wrong with people having different habits. There is nothing wrong with interacting with different cultures, as long as you don’t lose your own along the way. There is nothing wrong with preferring to get shitfaced at parties over playing Jenga with friends, or vice versa.
And there is nothing wrong with being a misfit.
Unity should come from diversity. We can embrace our differences, flaws, and titles without having to worry if we’re blending in.
I want to believe that at some point, I’ll see more than just red, white, and blue in the sky. I want to see all the colors the international community here has to offer.