“So, where are you from?” – asks a Yalie I have been interacting with for the past two and half minutes.
Not sure if my foreign accent gave rise to this question or if she would have asked me the same thing had it been clear that I was from U.S, I say “Georgia, I’m from Georgia.”
As I notice a hesitant half-smile, probably one indicating the confusion caused by a not-so-southeastern accent, I immediately add “The country, not the state.”
After a few “Oh-s” and “Really?”-s, the person finally realizes that I’m actually from the original Caucasia--a country that has existed for some 2,000 years. Not really knowing anything about that tiny piece of land probably in Europe, she moves away from the topic. I observe myself – how do I feel about this? Not really clear.
* * *
When I first came to Yale a year ago, I was happy to finally get away from the excessive patriotism I was fed at my high school – Georgia the historic fatherland. As a result, such conversations didn’t bother me the least bit. On the contrary, they gave me the freedom to define Georgia for my friends; being a Georgian was actually a freedom from any stereotypes or preconceptions anyone would have about me – I got to be whoever I wanted to be. Most likely being the only Georgian my friends had ever met, I did not have to be under pressure to be anyone really. However, after I took some classes, met some of the smartest people I had ever met in my life, and the allure of this sweet freedom faded, I felt different about this issue. My self-confidence waned; there I was – a kid from a public school in a country nobody really knew anything about. The more I thought about being different from many of my friends and classmates in these terms, the more anxious I became. I was not sure if I really belonged to this intellectual haven I was now formally a part of.
After a little while, I realized that my situation did not necessarily have to be distressing. My problem was actually a self-imposed, psychological one. Nobody really looked at me like an alien, and I certainly was not excluded from participating in any events or from being a member of some club or a society; technically – wherever I came from, I was still the same Yale student as everyone else. Even if I looked at the situation from the angle of a student from a very poorly represented country at Yale College, things were not that bad after all. Maybe it was actually a good thing. Maybe it was empowering to be from a place nobody really knew about and to still be here.
* * *
We talk for a couple more minutes and then part our ways. Once again how do I feel? On some days I still feel that less confident Georgian inside trying to convince me that where I come from actually defines what I can or cannot achieve, but today is not one of those days; today, I feel proud.