Friday, February 20, 2015

The Business Here is to Learn...Yourself

Why did I choose Macalester? As a senior graduating in a few months, I have been thinking a lot about this question. Why didn’t I choose a school that is larger or located in a warmer climate? In an email to my brother after I first heard about Mac in October 2010, I [apparently] wrote, “I heard it’s a good school, but the thing is, it’s in Minnesota and Mom doesn’t even know where that is.”

Choir has also been a big part of my college life

On the very first month of my freshman year, floormates gathered to celebrate a friend's birthday

There are many reasons I chose Macalester in the end, but one of the reasons I am most thankful for is diversity.

Before coming to Macalester, I attended the same institution from elementary through high school, which means I did not have to make new friends for 12 years. Crazy, right? Honestly, I loved our sense of community. But it also meant that I had no chance to interact with people from different backgrounds.

That was the biggest reason why I applied to Macalester and decided to spend four years here.

Looking back to those moments of deciding my path, I would say it was the right decision. In fact, “diversity” is used in so many contexts today that it was hard for me to fully understand what it meant and why it’s so important. But I know now as a senior at Macalester that diversity is not only about gaining different perspectives, but also about learning about myself and my values.

I was raised in Japan, one of the most racially homogenous countries in the world, and educated in an all-female Catholic school for 12 years.
Before Fall 2011, I was a part of the majority group at my school—Japanese, Catholic, female.

But three and a half years ago, for the first time in my life, I became part of a minority—an international student, a religious person, a female. (Yes, I realize females are not technically a minority group at Mac, but compared to my past experience of being surrounded only by girls, it felt like that for me!)

Being a minority for the first time was not easy. I was confused about who I was in relation to others. Some people might call it an identity crisis, but I dare to call it identity exploration.

A semester in Paris with a wonderful French host family also broadened my horizons
Classes gather outside of classroom, too - Lunch with Political Science Senior Capstone class and a professor
What does it mean to be Japanese or Asian?
Back home, I identified myself solely as Japanese but not necessarily as Asian because I knew that each Asian country had its distinct characteristics. I never even thought about what it meant to be Japanese and how others perceive Japan.

Three years ago, I felt uncomfortable when people called me Asian I felt as if my Japanese heritage was somehow buried in the word Asian. I was frequently asked about the politics, culture, and history of my country, yet found myself not having full answers.
Since then, I’ve tried to understand the history of Japan, and started questioning what the categorization of race means in the U.S. by taking an American Studies class called  Asian America.

What does it mean to be a Catholic?
Back home, I assumed that friends around me knew the teaching of Jesus and that the most important thing about Catholicism is to “love your enemy.”

Three years ago, I learned that what I associate with my religion was not necessarily what other people associate with it. I also realized how ignorant I was about the history of Christianity in relation to other religions.
Since then I’ve started exploring the meaning of religion and learning about different religions by joining the Multifaith Council.

What does it mean to be a female?
Back home, I’d never met a person identifying as LGBTQ and never thought about what sexuality meant to me—socially, economically, or politically.
Three years ago I made my first friend with a sexual orientation different from mine and learned about preferred gender pronouns. I learned that what I thought didn’t see in Japan was not due to its absence, but due to its illegibility caused by the unspoken oppression and discrimination in society.

Since then I’ve tried to inform myself, as well as people back home, that there are alternative ways for understanding the traditional gender roles we’ve taken for granted.

For the first time in my life, I faced the necessity to articulate who I am, to explain to others what my values are, and to understand myself. By interacting with people from different backgrounds, I realized that there are many things I didn’t know about myself and about my country, religion, and sexuality. And there are many things I learned only after getting out from the community.

There are opportunities to represent your country, such as the annual International Kidsfest

Three years ago, I felt insecure and naked but glad I gotten out of my comfort zone. And I hope you will, too, by coming to Macalester. Sure, it requires courage, effort, and sometimes pain. But despite its weather, the Macalester community warmly supports, welcomes, and encourages students to take risks to struggle, explore, learn, and grow.

On that first hot, shiny afternoon in late August 2011, I was excited to hear at the new student convocation that “the business here is to learn.” Back then I was thought that meant learning in the classroom. And indeed it’s true that I’ve been challenged and have appreciated all the intellectual discussions I’ve had with my peers and professors. But now I know that learning about myself, much of which took part outside classrooms— through casual chats over lunch at Cafe Mac, late nights in the common rooms, and on the way to classes—was just as important. And much of that learning was only possible because of the diversity of the people around me.

I’m still figuring out who I am but I’m happy that Macalester helped me in my journey of self-exploration. I’m looking forward to the life ahead and to find the voice in myself

Alexis Ayano Terai ’15, Tokyo, Japan