Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My Human Experience

written by guest blogger, Ozioma Aloziem

This summer has been rather unusual for me. As a multi-tasking busy body that thrives in chaos and to-do lists, I’ve found myself coming to quite an unexpected stop in motion. Classes have ended for the semester and aside from a brief evening job, I am not expected to be anywhere or do anything. I’m living on my own for the summer and I’ll admit I was terrified about what this summer of stillness and solitude would do to me. Thankfully, I’ve found that it has been breathtakingly refreshing. I’ve been able to take a step back and really examine all the different nuances of the world around me. We get so caught up in our busy work schedules and bills and so wrapped up in our personal dramas that we completely overlook our connectedness to each other and the world around us. As a psychology and anthropology double major with a passion for cross-cultural research, I constantly seek connections in this strange thing we call the human experience. If I’ve learned anything in my two decades of living, it is that aside from all of our various differences and beliefs remain some very similar central truths. What is faith but the belief in something bigger than our tiny selves? What is culture but what ties us to the roots of our past and the branches of our future? What does it mean to be a human being and how does that differ cross-culturally? It is the latter question that guides me in all that I do. I’ve lived in Omaha my entire life and I have come across people from every background imaginable. Despite our different backgrounds and upbringings I have still been able to form meaningful relationships and I’ve been able to grow as a person. That is the beauty of intercultural experiences- the way in which it allows you to grow into a person your younger self would be proud to be. 

Although I’ve been able to explore and learn more about the respective cultures of others, my own culture often feels alien to me. My parents were both born in Nigeria but moved to the United States in search of better opportunities for their future children. They then had to watch their children get so comfortable in a country they never planned on permanently settling down in and watch silently and sadly as we refused to learn about the deep lineage and unforgiving earth from which our family history stems from. As a first generation immigrant, it has been very difficult trying to navigate between two cultures. Although you might not consciously make the decision, you often find yourself choosing between the two. From the abbreviated version of my name I choose to go by to the way I am unable to speak to my parents in their first tongue, I’ve often felt myself constantly choosing one over the other. Despite being a Nigerian in America, I feel so disconnected from my Nigerian heritage. When my grandmother recently passed away in Nigeria, I felt guilty. I felt guilty for not understanding my mother’s grief, for not being able to share in it. Her loss was an island I didn’t know how to reach and my grandmother was just the name of someone in a different country.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more determined to blend the two. I originally planned on spending the summer in Nigeria doing cross-cultural research and getting to better know my Nigerian heritage but those plans unfortunately fell through due to the current situation in the country. While I was deeply devastated I had to remind myself that despite your very best efforts, sometimes your best laid plans just don’t work out and that isn’t necessarily a reflection of you. However, what you choose to do and where you go from there speaks volumes.

One of the first lessons I’ve learned in being a researcher is that you have to learn flexibility and patience. You have to learn to take things in stride otherwise this field could crush you (or cause you to have a mental breakdown). That being said, I decided to relocate my research project. In a little over a month I will be traveling by myself to the Dominican Republic. I know very little about the people and even less of the language and am absolutely terrified about setting foot in a land where I have never been before. However, being outside of my comfort zone is something that is not foreign to me. I have practice in being in settings where people are unlike me so hopefully I can transition somewhat smoothly. During these past few weeks, I’ve consciously made an effort to be aware of my surroundings, the ease in which I navigate this city, and the comfort that I find here. I’m reminding myself that I won’t have this in a little over a month, that I will be somewhere shockingly new. I’m also reminding myself that home is less about location and more about the feelings you take with you everywhere. I hope to learn as much as I can about the culture in the Dominican Republic during my five week stay there and I hope to find a little piece of home to take with me when I go.

Ozioma Aloziem is currently a Senior at Creighton University. She is a Psychology and Anthropology double major and a Women's and Gender Studies minor. Her reach in the community is quite extensive and includes coaching for the Marian Speech Team, tutoring high school students for Upward Bound, working in the Creighton University Office of Multicultural Affairs, and serving as a Peer Education Intern and former Women's History Month Coordinator for the Lieben Center for Women. She is very involved on Creighton's campus as a Markoe Scholar in the Markoe Leadership Program, an executive officer for the Minority Association for Pre-Health Students and is currently serving a second term as the Multicultural Advisory Council President. Her passions include an intense love for cross-cultural research and cultural competency training. In her free time, Ozy enjoys poetry, wine and laughing.

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