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The Culture Shock

I grew up in an elementary and middle charter school where I wasn’t a minority.

In fact, my school was named after a Black captain where Hispanics were the majority.

At that young age, I was naive and thought that’s how life would always be.

Until I graduated high school and it was time to go to university.

Being away from home for the first time and being by myself was scary enough.

I never stopped to think about all the other ways I would have to toughen up.

Who would’ve known I would be in a class or dorm hall full of people who looked the same?

I sure didn’t because all I ever thought about was showing up to class and getting good grades.

For the first time in my life, I saw how different I was.

I didn’t laugh at the same jokes or make friends with random people just because.

I forced myself to be social so people would know me and invite me to places.

But I couldn’t relate to anyone, like I was talking to the same person, just with different faces.

I felt myself changing so that I can fit in and not stand out too much.

I was different enough with my looks so I didn’t want to intimidate with my loud voice or touch.

They say culture shock happens when you travel overseas.

But it’s funny how studying abroad my senior year was when I felt the most free.

As a Dominican-American, being surrounded by Hispanic culture felt like home.

I knew I made the right choice to visit Chile, despite other students usually choosing Rome.

In my program, I studied with a group of people from all over the U.S. who I knew nothing about.

But being myself around them created a bond among us and brought us closer without a doubt.

It didn’t matter to me how different or similar I was to them; I just came to experience a world outside of my own.

To be liked or not liked wasn’t the question; it was about how much I’ve grown.

Besides a few awesome friends, what resulted in the experience was a more confident and braver me.

A me that was scared but who still chose to go without listening to anyone say what I could do or be.

I came back home with that mentality still in mind, but it seemed the culture shock came then.

I had forgotten how different I was but being back on campus reminded me again.

It scared me to think that after all my progress I was going to feel the same way I did before.

But then I realized it was up to me to decide what my last semester would be like in year four.

Different was never a bad thing but I made it out to be.

I was uncomfortable with being different from everyone else that I stopped being me.

Going to Chile was great, but not every experience in my life might turn out that way.

I couldn’t wait for things to feel comfortable in order to feel I can be myself every day.

Remembering how much I wanted to study abroad and not having any expectations of what’s to come,

Is the mindset I applied when I showed up to class, knowing how much I just accomplished in the country I came back from.

Moving forward I directed my attention and chose to focus on the reasons why I’m here.

I couldn’t be paying all this money to diminish my light for people who don’t remember my name, year after year.

I’m here because I’ve been given an opportunity I may not have had, given different circumstances.

I’m here because I deserve to be just like anyone else, but someone like me doesn’t get a million chances.

So I’m going to finish what I started and that’s exactly what I did.

If only I could tell the little girl who hasn’t met the real world yet, she’d be a proud kid.


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