Reflections After My First Semester

One of my least favorite questions is “How was/is school?” But I do have some thoughts on what I’ve experienced this semester in college and so I decided to pen these down and share, as popular/unpopular as that might make me. I’m not going to try summing up in everything in a word or phrase, so if that’s what you want to hear, sorry bro.

[Note: the first point is the longest, so feel free to skip past the racial stuff in the next 4 paragraphs.]

The past 4 months, I have felt more African than I have ever felt before. I don’t know how many people are familiar with my identity complex. Sometimes, I have a hard time feeling African. All the time, I have a hard time feeling like anything else. These sentiments are better expressed in an article I wrote for Clapback Magazine called “Local Third Culture Kids”. I knew this would happen to me, though. It makes perfect sense to me how leaving the country would make me feel more connected to it. When suddenly thrust into an environment you do not fit organically into, where you were raised begins to feel even more like home. And as tired as many people are of African immigrant fiction, those stories are relevant. The one I’m thinking about now is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. The longer I stayed in America, the more I felt like I could finally understand what I’d read about the characters a couple of years ago. I had a strong desire to re-read the book, feeling that it would make more sense to me now. I actually bought it off amazon. Unfortunately, I didn’t re-read it this semester, though. I’ll try returning to it next semester.

Part of the reason I felt more African than ever is because I felt very separate from the African-Americans. The rest of the world sees us the same way; black skin is black skin – but I don’t think Africans feel like we are the same. (Which is not to say that this leads to a lack of solidarity as Black People.) If I’m being honest, I have to say that many times, it feels like African-Americans don’t understand, or forget to consider, that we are not from the same backgrounds and simply haven’t experienced the same things, and don’t necessarily act and think the same way they do. This is not to undermine either party’s experiences. Sometimes it feels like they are incapable of comprehending. I daresay it’s not malicious on their part. Perhaps it’s just difficult to imagine lifestyles you’ve never known and easier to be led by what your eyes tell you. Perhaps it’s difficult to understand that “wokeness” is different depending on where you come from because the most dominant issues in our environments are not identical. I’ve found myself being occasionally jealous of those Africans that moved to the USA at a fairly young age because it seems they have the best of both worlds and can relate to everyone at once.

The relations between me and them are almost funny. During orientation week, I remember being asked by an African-American a couple of times how come I not only spoke so well, but “understood all of the American slang”. I’m not offended. It wasn’t malicious. It just showed me how unaware Americans are of how much everything about how their “culture” has infiltrated all the rest of the world while the realities of our worlds hardly ever permeate through to them back. I feel like I make some African-Americans uncomfortable. They don’t know what to make of me, so ignoring me seems like the best option. I’ve experienced eyes unwilling to settle on me while an AA speaks to a person standing right next to me and doesn’t even bother to acknowledge my presence.

I’m worried about some of them. I think they have identity complexes. Spoken word is one of the areas where I see it. I do not intend to undermine the history and present of trials and stigma faced by People of Color in America, but I can’t help but be tired of too much poetry sounding the same. I feel like some people use these themes and poetic styles to try validating themselves. Forgive me if this sentiment is insensitive, but it’s like, “If I write like this about that then I’m a legit POC and everyone will be able to see it.” People can go straight to overkill. True story: near the end of the sem, I went to go get some late night snacks with my Filipino friend and there, we met an AA who was my friend’s friend but also seemed to want to pretend like my presence was ignorable. Me, I just wanted my Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. But when I heard what she was saying, I legit wanted to laugh out loud. Going on about how there are so many spicy snacks and POC are supposed to love spicy snacks/food. But she could barely stand spicy snacks. “I’m such a bad POC.” Those exact words. That sentence was said at least 3 times in her slightly artificial-sounding rant. “I’m such a bad POC.” I just…I can’t…Oh, come on, Ghanaians, please tell me you understand why I find this strange. It really sounded partially like a theatrical show put on for the sake of my (ignorable) presence, with a touch of desire for affirmation (from self?) and identity complex. But ah, well.

This semester, I have felt like I am recovering the leadership qualities and the boldness that I think my high school environment and experiences broke within me. In high school, there was a very disturbing “leadership” culture that made it such that it was always the exact same people being chosen for absolutely any opportunities all the time, both to the point of neglect of the rest of the student population and staff effectively brainwashing students about who a leader is, so that everyone would be on the same (wrong, IMO) page. [By the way, read my novella, Puppets, because I kind of satirized the state of the school in there.] Obviously, I wasn’t one of the automatic options for leader candidates and I think I eventually gave up on my ability to be any sort of leader in an institution. At least in that context. But now, I’ve started finding my voice again. I’m no longer quenching the instincts to suggest new ideas and solutions, to be the gel that allows people to work together. I feel like I’m growing back into my real self within the context of school.

I rediscovered my love for dancing. Of all the classes I took this semester, hip-hop was my favorite. It wasn’t a theory class, it was a dance class. It was the one thing I looked forward to going to twice a week. I used to dance. Aside doing ballet for 10 years, I also did hip-hop for about 3. I stopped when I went to boarding school/high school, unfortunately. There are several reasons, but suffice it to say the social and human environments were not conducive for the continuous practice of this love of mine. And no, I’m not a fantastic dancer, but I still had mad, mad fun with it.

I fell in love with African history! I took an African History to 1800 class and was absolutely fascinated by a lot of what I learned. You see, previously, I had known barely anything beyond Ghanaian history, and even that, with a major focus on colonialism, which sometimes felt more like study of the White People in Ghana than Ghanaians in Ghana. I mean, thankfully, I wasn’t required to learn dumb stuff about the actual history of the British or the French or any of that previously-compulsory colonial syllabus type stuff. The fact that we stopped at 1800 means we never really got deep into the slavery stuff, though. I’m absolutely enthralled by Songhay, Soninke and Malinke traditions. I love ancient African societies’ mythology more than anything else. If you know how I am about things like fairytales and Egyptian and Grec0-Roman ancient mythology this isn’t surprising at all. I’m pleased to say I have enough material now (or I know where to look for them) for a couple of novels I wanted to write, and one of them was begun nearly immediately after the class ended for the semester. It’s being written. Learn about medieval African history (especially West African history) if you ever can.

Unfortunately, the schooling part of school was impossible to ignore. Many times, I was frustrated out of my mind about having to be there and actually complete assignments. I wasted so much time staring at the walls, wondering what was the bloody point of all this. I called my friends and ranted instead of doing my homework many times. And honestly, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the size of the workload for the most part. I was irritated by the work’s existence. Everyone who told me that school would finally start to be less cumbersome once I got to college is a liar. Instead, what I felt was exaggerated pointlessness. The things I was already learning on surface level and found pointless (to me) before now had to be studied in more detail at college level. And going in-depth into something you already find pointless doesn’t suddenly make it look full of meaning. It just becomes extra annoying. I hate school. So much so that I need people to stop asking me “How are studies?” because I don’t give a damn about them and it’s painful to lie – but I can’t tell them the truth if I value my time and emotions. I made the mistake of confessing the truth to one uncle over the phone mid-way through the semester. He responded in the typical Ghanaian adult way, with a semi-lecture and lack of empathy, and I began to cry. I wasn’t crying so much at his words but rather my extreme exhaustion of hearing them over and over again. That’s how I came to write the poem So You Stopped Speaking.

Oh, but how can I talk about my experience in college and leave out the biggest theme of my life? Solitude. Loneliness. (Oh, BTW, listen to Solitaire EP. Also, to better understand my relationship with Solitude, read My Relationship with Solitude: Stockholm Solomania. Warning, though: it’s long. Perhaps as long as this post.) So, at the beginning of the semester, we had orientation adventures (OA). There were about 12 different OAs and I’d say an average of 30 people on each. You can read about my very interesting experience at mine at “Evacuation OA”.

So many people made their friends for the rest of the semester at their OA. It was the same at mine, though not exactly for me, and that made me sad. People who had never known each other before OA met there and clicked so well that they became best friends and formed their own squads and cliques. I couldn’t help but feel jealous when I saw them around. But I was mostly solitary during the semester. Near the end, I realized I was making one or two real friends, though, so I’m grateful for that. And I think my roommate might be something of a social butterfly so the contrast there is real. But yeah. #TeamSolitaire.

All in all, I’m not miserable. Which is not to say that I truly think I’ll last out all 4 years. But I’ll take the shots as they come and face the hills when I meet them.

-Akotowaa

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11 thoughts on “Reflections After My First Semester

  1. I’ve been around and through your blog and I’ve enjoyed literally everything that I’ve read! You have a beautiful mind and I look forward to future updates.

    xoxo
    Leah

  2. Lots of meat to pick at here.

    I can relate to your described tensions between Africans and African-Americans. (In my college) it’s as if there are two mutually exclusive camps of black, whose occasional interaction is engendered only by issues of social justice. Communally, we are as separate as can be. African-Americans do not go to African events, and vice versa.

    When it comes to recognition by the institution, the Africans are much more invisible. Africans do not have a communal or residential space on campus. I recall a time when we attempted hosting an event in the African-American space and we were mysteriously denied.

    All this is frustrating, but the situation is definitely improving, at least in the years that I have been there.

    The constant assertion of African-American identity through the singular focus on discrimination and difference also puzzle me sometimes. I sometimes wonder if it’s good to have an identity forged through pain, and its endless acknowledgement of it.

  3. First of all, I’m glad you made this post because I think I would *have* to ask eventually lol. But secondly, this. is. my. college. experience. through and through! lol. I’d never had to think about my national and racial identities so intensely and for such a prolonged period. So many layers of difference! Being black, then Ghanaian, then Ghanaian from Ghana, then African. And (depending on the school/person) coming from a certain class. I also didn’t have tons of friends because of that, but I also eventually survived with a few pretty great Christian friends. But I hope you do better than I did navigating all of that…I think it’s possible when you’re not so afraid of the discomfort and not ashamed to be a “peacock” or the odd one out wherever you go. I saw a few people like that.

    1. But yeah, freshman year classes are actually the least interesting. When I finally started taking control of my schedule my classes were so 😍! (Though there was at least one bad pick each semester. but having three great—although, challenging—classes made up for them 80% of the time.) Also I made sure to have Fridays (or one day of the week) free every single semester and that was an everlasting joy (that non-humanities majors don’t often get lol).

      1. I tried to leave my Friday free but…circumstances. At least my Friday is *nearly* entirely free this semester as it was last semester. I’ll be okay. I think the classes I’m taking this sem will make life better as well. (Drawing, Astronomy, Chinese & James Baldwin.) On the surface, it looks like it’s going to be a good semester.

    2. Those “peacock” people are amazing! I admire their confidence so much. I aspire to be like that/like them. Perhaps some people see me as that way already, I don’t know. LOL

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