For this year’s Global Engagement Day, I had the privilege of attending a panel entitled “Let’s Talk About Race.” The event was hosted by three people — two current OU students with ample experience abroad and the head of the Women’s and Gender Studies department — and, though I was unsure what to expect at first, I found the meeting rather informative.
The premise, Bushra explained, had been left somewhat vague on purpose. Since the talk centered around such a broad topic, she wanted to avoid confining it to any specific aspect of the spectrum of “race.”
Subsequently, we covered a myriad of facets: How to prepare for potential culture shock when studying abroad; the differences between the nuances surrounding race in the United States, and the (frequent) lack of similar conscientiousness in foreign states; methods of combatting the recent displays of ethnic intolerance within the community of Norman; etc.
Most interesting, I found, were the experiences of some of the panelists during their time abroad. In several Asian nations — where homogeneity pervades — many locals would simply walk up to the foreigners and take pictures of them. While this would be a major cultural taboo in the U.S., the panelists stressed that the locals weren’t doing it with malice in their hearts. Rather, for various reasons, other nations simply don’t think about racial “etiquette” nearly as much as Americans.
I’m not especially nervous for my time in Italy this summer, but the panelists stressed that it goes along way if you put some time into learning the nation’s language. It’s a small gesture, but a few words here and there show that you’ve put in some time and effort into appreciating their culture.