They say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” 30 weeks at Carleton, I did not just reflect on Descartes’ Brain in a Vat problem, (fail to) learn how to code in Python, or pull all-nighters to examine literature on borderline personality disorder.
I volunteered as an abortion clinic escort, attended a die-in to support #blacklivesmatter on campus, and religiously shared posts on social media on feminism, on self-love, and against police brutality and racism. I was surrounded by people passionate about making a change on campus and beyond. I spent nights listening to friends’ stories about the struggles they’ve faced because of their identity, at the same time grappling with the multiple facets of my identity and the ways I could be discriminated against.
I am a queer, Asian woman who struggles with mental illness; Carleton isn’t a Utopia, but I am most comfortable there.
And now, here I am, back in conservative Vietnam, trying to make sense of the two worlds I am caught in between. From a place deemed to be ridden with political correctness, I was tossed back in a land where homosexuality is a topic not to be spoken of, or where women above a size 4 are openly shamed.
“What a shame for his parents”
Upon learning that my best friend was gay, my parents instantly pitied his parents. My best friend, one of the dearest people to me, is one of the brightest, hard-working people I know, in addition to his incredible patience and kindness. Yet, in a society that emphasizes honor and “public reputation,” those qualities aren’t enough. After having been at Carleton for so long, where queerness is normalized and celebrated most of the time, the world outside seems threatening, as I and many other people in the LGBTQ+ community continue to keep our true identities a secret once we return home.
In the blistering heat of Ho Chi Minh City, I hastily hopped on an Uber. Within minutes of casual small talk, the driver had asked me for my age, then in his “perplexity,” wondered why I – a 20-year-old woman with “a pretty face” – was, however, too fat.
Having spent a lot of my teenage years struggling with body image issues, 2 years ago, this sentence would have eaten me from the inside. I have always preached self-love and body confidence in others but struggled to find the same peace in myself and my body, partly due to the casual snide remarks often thrown around at family gatherings about the extra weight I've put on.
Yet, at Carleton, I am surrounded by the most fascinating women, who made me realize that it's ok to take up space, and that "fat" and "pretty" aren't mutually exclusive.
So, in response to the Uber driver, I questioned, "How is me being fat your business?," only to receive a nervous digression of the topic.
Upon leaving the Uber at the destination, I made sure, in my nicest tone, to remind him, "you're not fat but you're not good-looking either." I have never been more proud of myself.
Carleton might be deemed too politically correct, but here I have found self-love as well as a greater mindfulness of others' experiences. I have learned a great deal from my peers at Carleton, especially from their use of social media to promote awareness for social issues. Yet, liberalism isn't just about taking 2 seconds to re-share a thought-provoking Facebook post – it's about creating a discussion among others and finding a way to create change in the community outside of the liberal bubble – and I'm still figuring it out.