One night last semester, after countless weeks of being deprived of my parents’ home-cooked meals and traditional dishes, I stumbled into one of Georgetown University’s Asian cuisine offerings: Kintaro, a Japanese restaurant near campus. Tucked away on a corner on M Street, I found comfort in Kintaro’s dishes and enjoyed flavors that offered a taste of familiarity and sparked a feeling of home, filling me with sentimental joy.
Through eating Japanese food, I sought to uncover one of the many ways I could embrace my culture in a new living and learning environment. After moving away from home for the very first time, I worried about losing touch with my heritage and roots. My anxieties, however, have been met with an endearing campus community in which friends and networks often strive to create and sustain welcoming spaces for individuals of color.
Georgetown students ought to recognize the deep significance of cultural connectivity and appreciation, something that everyone is capable of doing regardless of their personal background. In sharing my experiences, I hope to encourage my peers to find comfort in navigating and embracing their roots to make campus feel a little more like home.
Before coming to Georgetown, I attended a high school in New York City where nearly 80% of the student body belongs to a racial or ethnic minority. Many students were second-generation immigrants, myself included; knowing that we shared such similar backgrounds brought us together. Diverse cultures, identities, traditions and values surrounded me in the form of school-wide holiday festivals, traditional dance performances and class curricula that discussed students’ immigrant family experiences. Our school was a hub of inclusivity that celebrated and recognized us for our similarities and differences. This ultimately drove me to appreciate both my own cultural heritage and pursue the creation of safe environments for others to share their own.
While applying to colleges, I researched –– yet didn’t fully delve into –– the demographic breakdowns of each institution’s student body. Attending a diverse high school in an equally diverse city was a privilege that I had taken for granted in my 12 years of public education. I was used to being surrounded by peers who hailed from all backgrounds and family heritages –– including those who similarly sought to reconcile American and immigrant values that extended beyond their households.
After deciding to attend Georgetown, I knew that I was entering an institution where nearly half of the student body is white, an environment that differs vastly from my previous school’s “norm.”
As the semester progressed, I –– like many of my peers –– grew increasingly aware of Georgetown’s predominantly white culture. Last August, as I walked into my very first college lecture, I grew unsettled at the sight of row after row of seats filled with students who did not look like me. It wasn’t that I felt like I didn’t belong; rather, I felt less commonality and cultural camaraderie with my peers than I had in my previous school. My classmates were nothing but kind, but I still felt internally marginalized for looking and feeling different.
Realizing this sense of displacement, I sought to find ways to connect back to my roots and elements of home. I’ve been fortunate enough to appreciate and find comfort in my surroundings, despite the relatively unfamiliar setting.
One of the first social gatherings that I attended last fall was a “family dinner” hosted by the upperclassmen in the Student Advocacy Office. What made the event particularly unique was that our “family” was specifically for members of Asian descent. Over many laughs, bowls of pho and advice-laden conversations from seniors, I noticed a particular feeling of familiarity and camaraderie, as I took in what would become a key cultural community for me on campus.
Later in my college experience, I joined Delta Phi Epsilon, a foreign service sorority that hosts social events for women of color and supports its members through cultural club performances and fundraisers. I shared laughs with friends as they cooked traditional Korean dinners in their tiny dorm kitchen and attended speaker events that spotlighted ambassadors with unique international backgrounds and stories.
As I sought to find my own sense of belonging on campus, I reflected on what I’d loved so much about my previous school. It wasn’t the diverse demographic makeup or racial breakdown alone that had brought me comfort; it was that I felt such a strong sense of identity in welcoming communities that appreciated and promoted cultural uniquenesses.
Ultimately, I’ve searched –– and am still searching –– for ways to connect back to my roots that provide elements of home in an unfamiliar campus setting. From attending monthly “family” get-togethers to grabbing dinner at the local Japanese restaurant to searching for classes that address immigration dynamics in the United States, I’ve uncovered many ways that I can feel truly connected to what I value in my identity.
With this, I hope that my peers of all backgrounds and identities can find welcoming spaces to reconnect with their heritage within campus communities –– whether it be through club organizations or supportive friends –– and continue to sustain spaces that truly celebrate cultural diversity.
Ava Kawamura is a first-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences. Relearning Life Lessons is published every third Friday.
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