In the summer of 2008, before I entered Middlebury College as a first-year student, I remember receiving an e-mail from Middlebury College asking me to sign up for a first year seminar. I perused through the catalog, wondering if a Lord of the Ring’s seminar would interest me as much as Ecological History of Vermont. As I am reaching towards the end of the catalog, I came across with this fascinating title: Voices Along the Way. The first impression was storytelling, creative writing, and academic research. The seminar designed for international students is an introduction to contemporary American culture via literature and film. I decided this was the perfect class for me to learn about American literature and culture.
Three months later, the first day of Voices Along the Way, I sat on a comfy red couch surrounded by fourteen other first-year students in Coltrane Lounge, Adirondack House. After a brief introduction from Professor Skubikowski, we were asked to introduce ourselves by using a map in the room and pinpointing our journey across the world, starting from where we were born all the way to our present location at Middlebury, Vermont. All of the sudden, I froze with my heart beating fast in my throat and I asked myself, “Is this a seminar designed for international students? How distracted were you to NOT read that specific detail in the course catalog? Now what excuse will I come up with and say that I am not an international student?”
One ny one, my peers stood up in front of the class and elaborated on their international journey from across the world to Middlebury, Vermont. Some came from Europe and traveled to Asia. Others had rigorous journeys, like coming from Africa, studying Europe, and traveling to South America to come to Middlebury, Vermont. I had no story. I was born and bred in New York City. End of story.
Professor Skubikowski looked at me with a smile on her face and asked me introduce myself to the class. I decided to tell them the truth. I started by saying that I was born in New York City and grew up there ALL my life, but I would like to start my journey in a small country in South America, Ecuador. I told them about my ancestors, how they had founded a village named Datas and had lived there till my Great-grandparents moved to the nearest city, Guayaquil in the 1950s. I told them that my ancestors have a rich history because storytelling was an important element in my family. We have passed down stories from generation to generation, learning that we were part of the nowaday “Inca Empire”, that our male ancestors came from Cordoba, Spain, that our African great (x6) grandmother was a runaway slave from La Sierra, that my mother’s paternal great grandparents came from Japan in the 1900s, and that I should be proud I come from the four courners of the world.
And at that instant, I remember why I signed up for this class: Because I also wanted to learn about my American culture and what does it mean to be an American citizen from the international and domestic perspective. To this day, I never regretted the decision. This was a great start in my college career as a storyteller and writer.