Tuesday, August 11, 2015

megaVOICE: Ignorance Isn't So Blissful

By Meghavaty Suresh
Contributing Writer

Ignorance is bliss, or so the saying goes. But those moments when we become aware of our own ignorance are anything but blissful.

I remember the first week of school vividly. There were events taking place such as orientations and meet-and-greets where you got to see who you would be spending the next few months or years with. It’s an interesting experience, and a time where you learn a lot about yourself and others.You may be surprised by your peers' ignorance of your native culture 
 and vice versa.

Scene 1: I was sitting with a few students and we were talking about sports. I love playing sports. Tennis, football, cricket… wait, what? Cricket? There was a look of confusion on the faces of my maybe-future friends. Before I could clarify, one of them asked if that was the sport where you ride a horse and hit a ball with a club. I doubt Ralph Lauren would have been pleased to find that a true blue American had confused polo with cricket! I waited to hear a chorus of laughter at this seemingly ridiculous assumption, but to my amazement most of the people around me were looking at me for confirmation. So, is that cricket?
No, it is not. This is cricket!

Scene 2: A few days later, I was at the dean’s house for a barbecue to welcome all the new faces to school. My brother and I were seated at a table with a number of students from China. My brother, who is an alumnus of the university, introduced himself to my classmates and asked them where they were from and so on. They in turn were curious about us which led to the inevitable sibling conversation where I shed light on how my brother and I used to fight like savages when we were younger. Everyone laughed, and then I asked one question I should not have asked. I turned to the girl closest to me and said loudly, “How many siblings do you have?” She smiled and said none. I then turned to the boy on my other side and repeated the question. He gave me the same answer. I looked at my brother who was now shooting daggers at me with his eyes. He then texted me, “Megha. Shut up. Don’t you know anything about China?”

That was when I realized he was referring to the country's family planning policy. But my faux pas had already been committed.

These kinds of mistakes are made without any malice or ill will. They are a part of adjusting to a new country, culture, and community, but it's worthwhile to try and be aware of what you know 
 and what you don't know  in order to keep these situations to a minimum.

Have you ever been baffled by your peers' lack of knowledge about your home culture? Have you embarrassed yourself through your own ignorance?

Tweet me @meghasuresh or leave a comment here!
Meghavaty Suresh is a content and brand strategist from Mumbai, India. She earned a master’s in new media at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where she realized what it truly meant to be an international student and how best to enjoy the experience. The megaVOICE column is her opportunity to give a voice to the whispers of international students. Megha lives in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter at @meghasuresh.

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