UCO International students share global voices in exhibit
Elyssa Wong believes differences can bring a community closer together.
As the University of Central Oklahoma and city of Edmond celebrated its international community this weekend in a festival featuring cultural-specific performances, delicious cuisines and all the trappings of 16 different countries, Wong and more than a dozen other international students spent Friday showing a different side to cultural identity.
“UCO is a very diverse campus, one of the most diverse in Oklahoma,” Wong said. “I think it’s hard for us to ever get past our country association or food and stuff. There’s never anything personal.
“This is personal.”
Global Voices: Unfiltered, a multi-sensory, interactive exhibition at UCO is designed to highlight international student voices in the form of paintings, essays, videos, voice recordings and original music.
The event was put together by a wide swath of students from 15 country associations at UCO and featured 19 submissions expressing a story, experience and perspective of the life of an international student.
The creative endeavors of students from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Haiti, India, Kenya, Malaysia, and the Philippines were all on display Friday inside the Forensic Science Institute Building.
But it wasn’t just the participation of the diverse group that made Global Voices a success, said faculty adviser Caitlin Porterfield — it’s the personal stories being told.
A photo from one student highlights her favorite place from back home and how it gave her comfort in a new place.
A photograph of an airplane wing and a poem titled “Just The Start,” details the mix of uncertainty, anxiety, hope and joy as the student leaves their home country for an educational opportunity halfway across the world.
A painting of a girl with a yellow face shares a student from Malaysia’s struggle with understanding the racist undertones the word has in America.
“When I came here, it was used as a category for people who had the same ethnicity as me,” the student writes about the painting. “My skin color became the deciding factor of how teachers treated me and how my classmates talked to me.”
Prateek Shetty, 21, came from India to UCO to study Forensic Science. But a sexual assault from a roommate his first months on campus left him feeling confused, violated and scared.
Shetty detailed all of those feelings in an audio story that played on loop inside one of the exhibition rooms.
“You get to see a broad spectrum of things that international students have to share,” Shetty said of the exhibit. “It makes you feel like you are not alone. A lot of people that are going through the same struggles as you. It makes me feel more comfortable.”
Though the project was only for one day, Wong said she hoped it sent a message about taking a deeper look into the international community. She hopes that the exhibition could become a recurring event on campus.
Wong said she’s proud of the group’s willingness to share such personal experiences and hopes that it comes to redefine international students’ identities.
“I was hoping this project would explore more and make people consider more,” Wong said. “I think we are at a point in society in culture where we can advocate for tolerance, empathy, diversity and inclusion, but also courage and honesty.
“There are so many of us. I’m not the only one who has this issue or is facing the same hardships. That bonds us together.”