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Featured blog post – Living the Liminal

Last week, a good friend and constant collaborator of C3 and the CCCE office published a fantastic post about his experience as an international student. Please enjoy this piece by Rex Cao (’16) reflecting on his challenges, persistence, and new meanings in the five years of adventures that he’s had since coming to America (and you can check out the original post on his tumblr blog here).

My 5 Years of Abroad Experience – Living the Liminal

(Liminal: the space in between) 

Tiredness is weighing down,

Lackadaisical efforts are seen on my footprints everywhere,

From the half-finished reading that I put down due to my temporarily-suspended ability for comprehension; from that half-hearted conversation I just had with a friend; from that lackluster basketball game I came back from; and from my long-suppressed feeling of home sickness…

Head is spinning, heart is aching, hand is shaking, and the “peace” that I so desperately wanted, is dangling. I need to elude, for a moment, from this tumultuous internal state that I am in.

What happened? What is wrong with me?

Rex

Imagine moments when things continuously fall short of your expectations one after another like the domino effect. How many times have we been in the cycle of gaining, losing and regaining the courage and confidence to tell ourselves “no stumbling-over-the-same-stone” ever again? Gradually, I find my fervor of turning over a new leaf wanes, and the feeling of defeat weighs just a little more each time I fall.

Maybe I shouldn’t have tried so hard to fit into American culture in the beginning by disassociating myself with my roots, my fellow Chinese peers;

Maybe I shouldn’t have felt obliged to help other Chinese international students with their cultural adaptation on my own terms – discounting my Chinese peers’ individualistic differences in priorities, preferences and ideologies;

Maybe I shouldn’t even have entertained the idea to explore what it means to be the bridge between two cultures, two distinct social groups with two sets of contradicting value systems and social norms…

I thought I had grown a lot since my first day in America. I thought I had gained enough language and cultural understanding of America throughout the two years at McNick (my high school in Cincinnati) to not end up exactly where I have been throughout my 3 years at Denison…

I thought I had gained enough confidence through successfully blending into American culture, befriending many non-Chinese students, and distinguishing myself from the Chinese community yet being able to remain as one of them.

And I thought the combination of all these things would have given me everything that’s needed to stop feeling alone, in-between, ambiguous, uncertain, and confused when being abroad.

In retrospect, the struggles, pains, discomforts, self-doubts, emotional breakdowns and confusions over my future… were the biggest obstacles I’ve ever encountered in my life thus far, but they are also the biggest blessings in disguise that predicated personal growth and a better future.

If there’s one thing that I did right throughout the course of 5 years in America, it would be RISK TAKING.

By taking risks, I don’t mean that every decision I made or everything I did involved absolute clarity, certainty and vengeance – but rather, it was my lasting commitment to continuous self-growth and the promise I made to myself about a better future self that, again and again, resuscitated me on this bewildering path of living the liminal.

I persisted to take small risks: from speaking up in classes, to befriending intimidating football players or attractive females, to joining a fraternity and holding leadership positions in campus organizations. Gradually and unintentionally, I was able to cultivate an intuition to trust in those first small baby-steps of risk taking to grow into the build-up of my courage and skills for greater risks, and ultimately lead me to finding my own path.

Walking the roads in-between two worlds; speaking the others-oriented rhetoric that permanently puts others’ needs above mine; listening and subscribing to the contradictory cultural appropriateness and social norms disseminated by both Chinese and non-Chinese peers, both my Chinese roots and American lived experiences.

This liminal path I am on is so confusing, yet the cumulative refreshing sense of gratification that comes with each challenge conquered, each risk taken and each goal accomplished keeps the abroad experience enchanting just enough for me to not give in to the peer pressure of comfort zone, nor to completely succumb to American assimilation, or Denison assimilation.

However, this statement by no means overshadows how much my abroad experience hurts, bites, twists, shatters, and wrecks my self-consciousness and self-esteem over and over. 

Nevertheless, the beautiful and positive side of things do reveal themselves  once enough time has passed, and enough risks have been taken: new meanings are constructed to replace the negativities of being away from friends, home, food, and everything that’ s familiar and comfortable; the birth of self-assertiveness and self-empowerment ultimately transpires with enough pain and difficulties endured; 

and the long-craved joy, pride, confidence, certainty, clarity, hope for the future, in addition to the light-heartedness and playfulness that’s unique to American social expectation finally stop contradicting with my original attitude and outlook rooted in Chinese confuciunism and Maoist paranoia.

I became aware that I don’t have to fit into either categories, nor could either cultural standard police my identity and who I want to be.

I started to look at my life at Denison differently, and sometimes even grew to indulge in the ‘results’ I have gotten from the endured tough times: leadership skills, social skills, expanded open-mindedness; reservation of judgements of others; cultural adaptability, and multicultural competence…. Nonetheless, living the liminal and permanently being entrenched in in-betweeness is still a reality that I have to choose to embrace everyday.

I still encounter difficulties as the new ones and, of course, the old ones keep finding their way back: language barriers, lapses of cultural misunderstandings, pressure to live up to both cultural expectations. And this is where the importance of making the choice of approach comes into play; do I choose to succumb to pressures from expectations located on either side of the China-US spectrum, or do I choose to embrace the in-betweeness. 

Living the liminal, then, is a beautiful thing. For the practice of familiarizing myself with discomforts, disorientations, confusions and ambiguities expands my comfort zone, and through which I learned to become resilient to external environments that impose on me meanings, ideas and interpretations of the reality. I also learned about the fluidity and continuation of self-evolvement and self-realization through being constantly denied by both cultures, both identities, while remains steadfast in finding the meaning in-between.

More importantly, I learned to embrace the contradictions that have resulted from influences of competing ideologies: extraversion vs. introversion; teeth-revealing laughs vs. shy and bashful beams; outgoing deemnor vs. reserved gentleness; self-sufficiency and competition vs. family-oriented harmony; individualism vs. collectivism; free speech vs. self-moderation of speech; instant gratification vs. abstemiousness…….. the list goes on and on

Ultimately, I learned that living the liminal means seeking from within myself to not alter and bend what makes me me in order to compensate for the discrepancies between the asymmetrical US-China cultural expectations in the liminal space, but rather being clear and taking ownership of my intentions, my motives, my reasoning, my knowledge, my wisdom, my hopes and dreams that are constructed by my past, while knowing they remain open to changes in the future.

And I have to continue living the liminal by making the same decision everyday: to embrace the in-betweeness and OWN it.

So let’s take a break, recalibrate, meditate, recuperate, and rejuvenate my passions and re-sail from where I just debarked.

 

P.S.

致与我同舟共济的 Denison 中国学生以及更多的遍布于美国各地的你们:

这是我的经历,它只属于我自己。

我清楚知道我的留学经历并不具有代表性,

也不具有借鉴性。

但是我写此文的初衷一是对自己留学生涯的一个反思,

二是期望通过我的声音,我的故事来鼓励和我一同在 liminality 中挣扎的同学,

更重要的是希望以自己的故事来触发更多人去分享

你们的故事,你们的心声,以及你们的成就。

这样以来,一个更加健康,向上,和谐互助的中国学生团体和中国学生校园文化便增加了可能的希望。

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Jay-Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation Scholarship

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The Shawn Carter Foundation Scholarship provides financial support to high school students as well as undergraduate students entering college for the first time. The purpose of the scholarship is to help under-served students who may not be eligible for other scholarships.

Students who have either graduated from high school or earned their G.E.D. may apply. Minimum grade point average is 2.0. Students must have a strong desire to go to college and earn their degree. Students must also have a desire to give back to their communities.

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C3 Workshop – O.N.E Pre-conference

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On Friday, February 20th, I had the pleasure of attending my first C3 Workshop – a O.N.E Pre-conference.

C3 stands for Cross-Cultural Communities, a group of Denison organizations that meet monthly to discuss campus issues, events planning, collaborations and so on. O.N.E is a half-day leadership conference centered on Organizing, Networking, and Empowering. It aims to enhance students’ leadership understanding and skills to apply in Denison community and the real-world. It is, essentially, a platform for leaders and members of different organizations on campus to meet to discuss activism, effective leadership and campus issues.

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WSGT Nan Nowik Awards

The WGST program annually offers the opportunity for students to submit their work to the Nan Nowik Memorial Awards. These awards are open to any and all students who may have done work relating to women’s and gender issues. Please see the attached poster for more information.

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AmeriCorps Job Posting

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The AmeriCorps Ohio College Guides currently has 70 positions available at 9 college access program sponsor sites including Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, College Now Greater Cleveland, Connect to Success at Washington State Community College, Greene County College Success Partnership, I Know I Can, Mahoning Valley College Access Program, Ninde Scholars at Oberlin, Scholarship Central in Zanesville and Stark Education Partnership.

The AmeriCorps Ohio College Guides is a near-peer initiative that places fresh college grads into schools and resource centers across the state to deliver programs and counseling on college and career exploration and financial education to 6th through 12th graders; provide support to 11th and 12th graders on strategic and tactile postsecondary access and financial planning; and facilitate successful postsecondary transitions, persistence and ongoing financial education with high school graduates.

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John W. Adams Summer Scholars Program in Socio-Legal Studies

The Adams Summer Legal Scholars Program announces the inaugural Law and Society Summer Seminar, a week long, intensive mini-conference in undergraduate legal studies. Modeled after the legal studies seminars sponsored by the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society at Oxford University’s Centre for Socio-legal Studies in Oxford, England UK, the Adams Program looks to replicate the spirit and format of the Oxford program in which Kenyon’s Summer Legal Scholars once participated. The Seminar is designed to bring together a select group of students from across the Five Colleges of Ohio to examine a current topic or theme in law through a number of presentations offered and discussions led by faculty in multiple disciplines at the consortium’s colleges as well as from participating Ohio law schools.

The chosen topic for the inaugural seminar is Race, Crime and Social Justice. In light of the recent events over the past 18 months involving the shooting of African Americans by police officers and the recently released U.S. Department of Justice Report following its investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri police department for suspected civil rights violations, the nation’s attention remains focused upon the specter of “injustice under the law” when it comes to persons of color in America’s towns and cities. From topics like racial profiling and cross-racial eyewitness identification to wrongful convictions and excessive use of force, these issues have been staples of systematic examinations of the U.S. criminal justice system.

Students wishing to participate should submit letters of interest to the Office of the Provost/Dean on their respective campuses. No more than three (3) students from each campus will be invited to attend the conference and seminar on the campus of Kenyon College during the week of June 8 – June 13, 2015. Overnight accommodations will be provided in College housing, with registration fees covered and meals provided. Faculty from the College of Wooster, Denison University, Oberlin College, and Ohio Wesleyan University, in addition to the host institution, Kenyon College, will be invited to be presenters and discussion leaders

 

For more information see http://www.kenyon.edu/directories/offices-services/office-of-the-provost/funding-opportunities/student-research-opportunities/john-w-adams-summer-scholars-program-in-socio-legal-studies/.

Deadline for submitting letters of interest is April 15.

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Online Info Session by Direct Action & Research Training (DART) Apr. 1

The Direct Action & Research Training (DART) Center will be hosting an online information session on Wednesday, April 1 at 8pm ET to discuss careers in community organizing with individuals interested in uniting congregations and working for social, economic and racial justice.

RSVP at www.thedartcenter.org/events

DART hires and trains organizers to lead campaigns on a broad set of justice issues including:

* Plugging the school-to-prison pipeline
* Reining in predatory lending practices
* Expanding access to primary health and dental care
* Prioritizing funding for affordable housing and job training
* Education reform in low-performing public schools

Positions start June 29, 2015 in Columbus, OH, Richmond, VA, Topeka, KS, Daytona Beach, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and Tampa, FL. Starting salary $34,000/year + benefits, with regular performance based raises.

Fluent Spanish speakers are encouraged to apply.

To find out more about DART or to apply, visit www.thedartcenter.org. Still have questions? Contact Hannah Wittmer at hannah@thedartcenter.org or (202) 841-0353.

 

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Posse Plus Retreat 2015 – A Reflection

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By: Imani LaGrone

This article is written by Imani LaGrone. She is a second year Posse Student from Chicago. Imani is a leadership fellow, a member of the DCA Medical Volunteers, a Denison Dazzlers, an active member of the Black Student Union, serves on the University Honor Committee, and works as a student supervisor at the Mitchell Center. This article is a personal reflection of her experience at this year’s Posse Plus Retreat (PPR). This year’s topic was Crime & Punishment.

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