Reflections: On Being International
As the semester draws to a close and before we disperse for the summer, it seems an appropriate moment to reflect on what we have accomplished since we started this project. The statistics excite us: Since the IWB began in late October, we have been visited over 18,000 times from people in 108 countries. We have shared personal experiences that are sometimes painful, sometimes funny, but always hopeful. We started with a team of people coming from a great diversity of perspectives, and we have become a family. We wanted to share one final post on what we have learned as we’ve developed this blog, so we asked each of our editors and graphic designers to reflect on what it means to be an international writer/artist.
Please feel free to use the quieter moments of the summer to consider developing one of your own stories. (If you want to write for us, let us know by filling out the pitch form.) We will definitely be back in the fall with more to share. Until then, happy travels.
-The IWB family
For me, writing as an international is an identity-forming experience. Communication can often be an uneasy experience for me; a tense negotiation between the languages I think, speak and write in, and between the competing cultural perspectives that inform my worldview. But in the moment of writing, when I construct an “I” on the page, when I decide what voice is heard when my words are read – in that moment the disparate parts of me come together seamlessly. When I put words on a page and claim a small piece of the paper as my own, I also claim a small space in the world as my own.
Being an international artist is exciting but challenging at the same time. Visual works are different from texts—audiences can “literally” see what is on paper which means I should be as accurate as possible. In fact, visual representations have a limitation in presenting the connotations of contexts, yet it is truly powerful. Visual works attract people’s attention and bring texts to life, something we can actually see. As an international artist, I enjoy collaborating with students from different cultural backgrounds by making images for their writing. I love the fact that images always create conversation between people. Images are a common ground among everyone regardless of our nationalities and/or languages.
Writing for the IWB was an eye-opening experience in many ways. For one, it allowed me to express an issue that has been on my mind for a long time. I’ve always found the process of writing as a way to release my thoughts and emotions, and writing about an issue as freely and as personally as I liked was definitely cathartic. I have also realized through sharing a bit of my story that there are many others who feel and think similarly – regardless of their own cultural and national background, and even regardless of age – and it has been a pleasure seeing my shared work opening up even more doors for me to meet and speak to new people, and to hear their stories.
Being an international writer, in my opinion, should not be different from being an American writer or being any kind of writer. The word “international” used in America can sometimes be alienating as it evokes a sense of other-ing that often marginalizes international students’ voices and opinions. With that said, I believe that as an international writer for the International Writers’ Blog, I have the ability to write not only for myself but also for many other people around the world whose words may not be heard nor appreciated. Recognizing this privilege, I also have the responsibility to be respectful of each other’s differences, no matter where we are from, and to be inclusive of all kinds of experiences. At the end of the day, language, especially English, is fluid and constantly evolving to acclimate to an impressive range of writers’ ideas, thoughts, and whims.
I have always had a deep desire to explore and understand other cultures in our world, and the International Writer’s Blog has given me the opportunity to do that and more. I enjoy reading all the amazing stories that are shared not only because I learn more about the amazing traditions and customs across the globe, but because the narratives are so personal and true to the heart. It is my ambition to create meaningful visual works of art that complement these wonderful stories. As a Brown|RISD Dual Degree student studying International Relations and Apparel Design, I find it fascinating that there are so many similarities between our cultural identities and the clothes we choose to wear. I believe clothing is the form of art that is closest to our bodies, both physically and emotionally, and that how we dress can affect the ways in which we perceive other people and vise versa. Likewise, having an international background is a characteristic that is close to one’s heart, and is unique to each individual yet universal throughout the world.
Illustrating for stories and articles written by people from different backgrounds is an enriching experience. It means learning about diverse cultures through art, in a way becoming part of someone’s tale, as well as learning about different ways of expression. In addition, being an international illustrator can also imply a challenge, often by assuming responsibility for accurately and respectfully presenting an image of the portrayed culture.
I feel privileged to call myself an international writer/artist because I believe I’ve been given the chance to share my reflections on my experiences an international student. Although most international students may share some common struggles, each of our experiences are unique to how we navigate the lines between our upbringing in our respective places of origin and our current immersion within a different cultural context. That being said, there is a deep sense of cultural appreciation and diplomacy that one develops from the opportunity of cross-cultural exchange. To be an international writer/artist gives you a responsibility bigger than yourself to paint a picture of your country or culture. I feel honored to have this newfound opportunity to shape the perspective that others have of the world outside their own.
To me, being an international writer means responsibility. I feel like I am more than just a writer, I am a representative of my culture. It means that I can’t throw words around like Eid, Basant, or Mela, which are words used in daily discourse in my country, without explaining what these mean. It also means that I have to be particularly cautious of what I am writing and be aware of the sensitivities of the vast array of cultures and traditions represented by my readers. It’s easier to write in a country from where I belong, because majority of the people share the same views as me, but here there are a myriad of opinions which may differ from mine. To me, writing as an international student is more than just writing, it’s an opportunity; an opportunity to break barriers with the words I type.
photography by: Olivia Mansion, MA ’16