International Student Essay
In honor of International Education Week, the Office of International Students and Scholars, the Office of Study Abroad, and the Holcombe International Living Learning Community created an essay contest to “highlight the opportunities for international education all around us.”
The essay topic was this:
“‘When you learn something from people, or from a culture, you accept it as a gift, and it is your lifelong commitment to preserve it and build on it.’ –Yo Yo Ma
In light of this quotation, write an essay describing a personal experience that helped shape your character and international outlook. Explain what the experience was, how it changed you, and how you intend to apply this lesson to your life.”
The winner of this year’s competition was Oluwafemi Michael Taiwo, a chemical engineering graduate student who wrote about an experience with a visitor in his native country, Nigeria. Taiwo is currently the president of the African Student Organization.
Taiwo said he was “at once excited and humbled to win the essay competition.”
Taiwo’s essay is printed here.
“It started like any other vacation. It was the family custom to move to the rural parts of Northern Nigeria to spend a few weeks during the holidays. The only difference this time was that we had new neighbors. They were a large family from Comanche, Okla., and they had been in Nigeria, my country, for a month prior to our arrival. I quickly made friends with Manso, one of the 11 children of the family. Manso was about my age – I was 16 at the time – and height. He was as athletic as I was and we used to run up the mountains together every morning. He also loved soccer and we could play the game together all day. But that was where the similarities ended. Manso had an unusual calm and grace about him; he would allow you to do all the talking while listening with rapt attention. He quickly became the go-to guy during conflict resolution. I was Manso’s antithesis – garrulous, brash and impertinent. I was the go-to guy when people wanted to start a conflict. I admired Manso’s persona but I did not try to be like him because I believed he inherited it: After all, everyone in his family had similar traits.
Then came my birthday. Manso brought me a fetish looking stick as a gift. It was a normal stick except that it was embroidered with purple, orange and black fabric and it had an eagle feather at one end and a turkey feather in the other. He explained to me that they were Indians from Okla., USA, and that what I had in my hands was referred to as a Talking Stick. The Talking Stick, he continued, was used during a council meeting. The holder had the right to speak while holding it and everyone must listen. This, he told me, was to help prevent discussions from degenerating into cacophonies. They believe that whoever holds the talking stick has within his hands the sacred power of words. The eagle feather, for instance, represents high ideals i.e. truth as viewed from the expansive eye of the eagle and the turkey feather symbolizes peaceful attitudes necessary in every successful dispute resolution.
For the rest of the holiday, the Talking Stick was with me everywhere I went. Whenever a friend wanted to say something, I gave it to him and reminded myself that I must not interrupt him until he was through with what he had to say. This forced me to listen empathically. Also, when it was my turn to speak, I would hold the stick bearing in mind that my words were sacred and I am bound by them. I lost the Talking Stick during one of my morning jogs through the mountains but the lessons in effective communication that it taught me was life changing. I am a better person now because I met a Native American who so willingly shared with me the gift of his culture.”