Education & Career

“Where are you from?” And other difficult questions.

August 21, 2015

There is nowhere more demanding of your introductory powers than a college orientation (at least, I have yet to experience one). You have to give an accurate picture of yourself, but also sound interesting, smart, cool but not braggy – all in the span of a few seconds, maximum a few minutes depending on what type of ice breaker it is.

In those first few days of college, the questions “what’s your name,” is almost always followed by “Where are you from?” People are in search of tid bits of information that can bring them together and it’s a nice way to exchange pleasantries.

For the vast majority of people, it is a relatively harmless question. But for Third Culture Kids, international students, military kids, immigrants, and just about anyone who comes from more than one town, outside the U.S. or both, they might have a hard time answering the dreaded question “where are you from?” The problem is that while people expect a one word answer, you have a story to tell.
As it gets closer and closer to your turn, it will be tempting to just say a quick answer: North Carolina. After all you just moved there not too long ago. If you’d prefer not open the door to the questions that will surely ensue, by all means, give the quick answer. But if where you are from (for lack of a better term), is very important to you and integral to the identity that you want to present to the world, then I have some suggestions for you:

These were some of hall mates during Freshmen year. One of the orientation assignments was constructing a phoenix (or school mascot) from materials given. We lived in the International Learning community, so almost everyone had a complicated answer to "Where are you from?" And even the ones that didn't had an interesting to tell.

These were some of hall mates during Freshmen year. One of the orientation assignments was constructing a phoenix (or school mascot) from materials given. We lived in the International Learning community, so almost everyone had a complicated answer to “Where are you from?” And even the ones that didn’t had an interesting story to tell.

 

My number one advice?

Don’t let anyone dictate how you are going to introduce yourself. Don’t let yourself be boxed in by the question that is asked or who is asking it.

 

For example, some people ask “Where do you live?” This question is a little bit more specific than the generic and often useless “where are you from?” But saying I live in Maryland does not quite represent how I want to be seen. So if anyone (even today), asks me ‘where are you from?’ ‘where do you live,’ ‘what is your hometown’ or any variation of that question, I almost always respond:

“I live in Maryland but I was born in Nigeria.”

2. Don’t be afraid to make them clarify the question.
“Do you mean where I was born or where I live right now?”

3. Other ways to answer these questions if you really are from a lot of places could be:

“My family grew up all over, but currently we’re living in ________.”

4. The trick is to be succinct but thorough.
Do not feel the need to hide part of your identity in fear that it will take too long or people won’t be interested. 1. I assure you they will be interested. And 2. If they’re not, that’s their problem not yours. You have said your piece.

A few other pieces of advice for freshmen orientation:
1. Come up with a about 5 “fun facts” to tell about yourself and use variations of them in the countless ice breakers. If certain aspects of your cultural identity are important to you, this is the place to lay them out.
2. As early as possible, commit to memory the name of your orientation leader, RA and other student leaders you interact with a lot. They will come in handy as you navigate the school year, and it will be awkward to ask their name later.

Those who have gone through freshmen orientation with a complicated introductory package, do you have other advice for those that are embarking on that journey? Comment below.
Those starting out the journey, do you have any questions? Leave those below as well or email me.

And for everyone else, no matter what stage in life you’re in:

Go forth and introduce your whole self. 😀

 

Yours,

OmolayoNkem

You Might Also Like

2 Comments

  • Reply Ralph Harwood August 21, 2015 at 22:39

    So thoughtful and something we who ask the question should consider.
    Thanks Omolayo,
    Ralph

    • Reply omolayonkem August 27, 2015 at 09:45

      Thanks so much for commenting Ralph! That is a really good point. Most people do ask the questions harmlessly. The problem arises when they want a simple answer, but you don’t have one. But you and the Local Friends already know not to expect one! 😀

    Any Thoughts?

    [subscribe2 hide="unsubscribe"]