by Cutter Kilgore
“The United States loves war and hates Islam,” said Ugur Dogu, a Whatcom Community College scholarship student studying abroad and speaking about the general perception of America through the filter of the media in his home country, Turkey. “But smart people like my family, they want us to love everyone from person to person. I have great friends here,” he continued, choked with emotion. “Muslim people love plants and animals. We love humanity.”
Dogu and other international students have found a home here at Whatcom. And many of them found themselves as part of a panel on May 22 to discuss themes of cultural perspectives and stereotypes with a packed and fervent Heiner auditorium crowd.
The panel followed an award-winning documentary, “Crossing Borders,” which follows the lives of Moroccan and American university students over the course of a week as they live and travel together and attempt to breach the barrier of cross-cultural communication.
“The film was really very emotional. Very powerful,” said Koichi Hirata, a member of the Programming and Diversity board that helped sponsor the event. “As an international student from Japan, I feel that Americans don’t go outside,” he said. “I like American people a lot, but I’d like more of them to interact with people from other cultures. I feel we cannot really understand each other.”
There were questionnaires being handed out in the foyer that asked attendees to provide feedback of the event and to share a written reflection on what they learned from the film and the ensuing discussion. Some students were forthcoming even without a pen.
“I would like to invite foreign students to come here,” said psychology student Marcus Cowles after the film. Dwayne Tuck echoed those sentiments from the neighboring seat. “It would have been better to have both extremes,” Tuck said. “The film was one-sided. They’re only seeing Americans through television.”
Television news media appears to play a significant role in shaping cultural views. It was one of the recurring themes of the evening.
“I don’t believe there are many stations out there in the media that are trying to be objective,” said Israeli student Tamary Baz from her seat behind the long, narrow table of the panel. “Some things I watch make me really upset. It’s sad for me that everyone is telling only one side of the story.”
With such a diverse group of international students studying at Whatcom, the film and panel was a good chance to see different cultural views, said Alexandra Agosta, of the Programming and Diversity board. “When you can express your opinions in a respected manner, it opens up broader perspectives,” she said.
American and international students have come together to study at Whatcom and face the many challenges of confronting numerous cultural perceptions, not all of them favorable.
Cici Sulila has been wearing her hijab (headdress) since two months before getting her scholarship to study at Whatcom. “I was told it’s not too late to take it off since I’m going to America,” she said with a tiny smile. “But I’m witnessing that my advice was wrong about how Muslims are treated.”