By MAURICIO RICH
“Pollo, arroz amarillo, caraotas negras y jugo natural de naranja,” I said to the lady in La Havana on Vaughn’s Center first floor the first week of my freshman year. She hands me the box with the chicken, yellow rice, black beans and natural orange juice I asked for, and I walked to the cashier to spend my last meal swipe of my 15-meal plan. I tried to grab my wallet in my back pocket and before I even got there, my food spilled on the floor, including my beloved natural orange juice – there was no meal swiping. Rice and beans were scattered everywhere, a river of orange juice was on the floor, people were looking at me and the sound of a busy cafeteria was all around me. My eyes simply stared at my lunch that landed on the nasty floor in Spartan Club..
Two Cuban ladies quickly came to clean up my mess. “Don’t worry honey, it’s all good,” one of them said. By the sound of their accent, I knew I would be bombarded with questions about myself and where I was from–that’s how Hispanics are. They made me feel less embarrassed and I learned how rich UT is when it comes to cultures. In this case, it was Hispanic culture, but there are certainly more.
About 1,400 international students from roughly 140 nations are enrolled at UT for Fall 2017. In other words, that’s 1,400 perspectives and experiences combined in one place: Tampa.
How does somebody from Nepal think his/her culture is observed here? – far away from home. “Not many people here know about Nepal,” said Aayan Ghimire, a sophomore sports management major. “When I ask people about Nepal they ask me ‘where is that?’”
Ghimire experienced culture shock here in the US for various factors.
“The times people eat because here people eat dinner at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.,” he said. In Nepal, Ghimire is more used to have dinner later, around 9 or 10 p.m. He also said it has been very hard for him to adjust those dinner times.
Even though people do not know a lot about Nepal and its culture, Ghimire adapted to the life in the US, including gastronomy, time difference and behavior. Though he has been treated well at UT, he feels alone sometimes as there are not a lot students at UT from his region.
“When I say I am from Eastern Europe, people ask me how the world wars affected us,” said Eszter Karacs, a sophomore international business and marketing major.
Karacs said there are people who actually know about Hungary, its language and geographic location, but there is always an exception. “Some people have zero idea what Hungarians are like,” she said. When it comes to language, gastronomy and culture, Karacs said people simply do not about it.
Karacs has many stories about people asking her about Hungary and Europe in general, but there is one that she will never forget. “One girl [at UT] thought I drove from Europe to America,” she said. “Apparently, there is a highway across the Atlantic.”
UT strives to make international students feel at home. Because of this, UT offers different .“Every student wants to feel accepted and they are able to achieve this by sharing something in common with a certain person,” said Jaini Chhaya, an International Admissions Counselor. “It is very important to have various cultures represented on campus as it promotes greater learning and understanding between folks of different backgrounds and places.”
“When I talk to people at UT about my culture, they are often curious and welcoming to the insight of it,” Krisha Shah, a junior management information systems major from Kenya said. “Most of the students here are open-minded to hearing what I have to say because they come from diverse cultures themselves.”
Shah has had scenarios in which people simply do not know where she comes from at all. “Sometimes I get asked ‘is Kenya a state in the US?’” she said. “Worst of all, they do not even know Kenya exists.”
As a representative of the Hispanic culture, I have noticed people around campus have general knowledge of our food and language. Salsa Rico and La Havana, where I spilled my lunch, serves Hispanic food to many UT students increasing knowledge regarding what we eat. Also, there are many Spanish classes offered at UT and that helps to bring more and more knowledge of our culture in general.
Our school is very diverse and everyone has a different perspective on our culture. Whether you are from Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America or the US, we are from UT.
The floor where I dropped my lunch was cleaned couple of minutes later. The lady who served my lunch walked towards me and gave a new box containing the same food. This time, she told me to be careful. I was very thankful for the food, but also that we share the same culture.
Mauricio Rich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org