Funded by alumna, ‘Discover America’ fosters discussion

Captured here is the Director of Community Engaged Learning Lisa Kaul as a guest speaker for another culture event, “Lenses,” hosted by OIS. It took place on Nov. 1, 2017./ Courtesy of the Office of International Services

Have you been wanting to get more involved on campus? Would you like to converse with a wide range of people about their life experiences? Or are you just craving mac ’n’ cheese? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you should consider coming to the upcoming event, “Discover America,” hosted by the Office of International Services (OIS) and the Office of Campus Life and Diversity.

“Discover America” is an event where people share personal narratives about their encounters with the American landscape, values and people. OIS intern Brian Lee ’20 unpacked these ideas in an emailed statement: “To share stories about what America means we attempt to answer questions in the likes of expectation versus reality, experiences of cultural shock and the metaphor of a [U.S.] melting pot[…]and its impact in our collective lives.”

Post-Baccalaureate Fellow for the OIS Ria Ghandi ’17 emphasized that there is no expectation that the stories have to be from an international perspective. She explained via email, “It is an evening of sharing stories and vulnerabilities about people’s experiences in America.”

As the senior guest speaker during last year’s “Discover America,” Ghandi decided to share her own story. She disclosed, “I came to America in 2013, excited to learn and explore more about the country as well as the liberal arts educational system. While I really enjoyed my time at Vassar academically, I struggled a bit with the social environment.”

Ghandi added, “I realized that while a majority of Vassar students were liberal, they weren’t necessarily open minded, in the sense, they did not possess a lens through which they could encounter international students, since they lacked a global perspective. This made me look for a community in different ways and I stumbled upon the OIS, which made me feel like finally I had a home at Vassar!”

The attendees of “Discover America” will be divided into tables of 10, balanced between domestic and international students, faculty and administrators, along with facilitators including OIS interns and Asian Peer Mentors. Ghandi described how they are equipped with a range of guiding questions, some funny, some light and some serious and provocative, such as “What is one aspect of America that you’ve grown to enjoy/love?” or “How is the hook-up culture similar/different where you are from?” The event’s guest speakers, Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy Li Kang and VSA President Anish Kanoria ’18, will be sharing their experiences with the audience in order to provide additional insights into cultural differences for table groups to reflect on.

Facilitating this dialogue is important on two counts. Firstly, having an inclusive conversation about culture is central to the OIS mission. Lee said, “The OIS strives to improve campus life with the international community at its core.

With the support of passionate members who believe in the importance of globalization and representation, we seek to integrate the diversity at Vassar to maximize the college experience for all.” There is no better way to do this than to discuss American customs in a diverse setting and welcoming atmosphere.

Furthermore, Ghandi explained, “‘Discover America’ is a part of a larger program called the Sophonpanich Program run by the Office of International Services. The Sophonpanich Program was made possible by an endowment to OIS by the family of Chotiya Sophonpanich Ahuja ’96, a Thai Vassar alum. A lot of programming occurs out of this endowment, which gears itself towards ensuring successful transition and integration of Asian international students and scholars at Vassar and within [the U.S.]”

She continued, “‘Discover America’ is one such event that arose out of the fund. It is an evening of sharing stories and vulnerabilities about people’s experiences in America. It is an event open to not just Asian Internationals, but to everyone—such as domestic students, administrators and faculty. Hence, all are welcome!”

America has recently been plagued by political discord and gun-related strife. It would not be a surprise if the conversation on the night turned to current affairs. However, Lee observed, “Our students will always be affected by the media, not specifically to the recent tragedies and political climate. The current events are not the focus of our discussion, though we do welcome elements of agitation and resolution derived from them in conjunction with other relevant personal experiences. These experiences are important to be discussed as we will have the perspectives of different members of the school to engage in perhaps not a usual conversational setting.”

Ghandi stated that she believed a discussion of America’s positive aspects would prevail over a discussion of the country’s negative ones. The focus is on personal experiences rather than engaging with the political sphere, although a conversation about the former may be woefully incomplete without a nod to wider issues. Ultimately, OIS wishes to foster a fruitful, dynamic conversation about what life is like in America.

The event is being held in the Villard Room on Friday, March 2 between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you would like to contribute, or simply learn more about America, drop by for what looks set to be an exciting and thought-provoking evening.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *