This past weekend, I attended “Convergencias 2012,” a conference on political development at Yale. Also present were over 60 other Mexicans who attend top universities in the United States. This was my first time traveling to another college for an academic event as a Columbia student. The experience redefined my perspective on networking, especially among international students, and what it implies.
I don’t like to state this bluntly, but the Mexicans that surrounded me form part of Mexican society’s elite. They are well-traveled connoisseurs. They attended international private schools and acquired sufficient proficiency in the English language to be able to ace college admissions testing. They’ve always lived in a privileged bubble within a developing country and didn’t have much difficulty adjusting to living abroad in college. They are also foreign to the disaster on Mexican soil as the country crumbles at the hands of drug lords. At Yale, we discussed our country’s reconstruction, but I wonder if we will really become its next big architects.
Instead of embracing the links, the connectivity, the networks that our visionary ideas can form, our conversations sometimes seemed to center on the differences between the schools we come from. I discussed why Columbia is less scattered than NYU, more bureaucratic than Yale, and more humanities-oriented than Penn. We discussed what we all do to redeem Mexico within our particular academic contexts, but we rarely talked about creating an effort in unison. I find it ironic that we create imaginary visual walls between ourselves when we will probably end up working together in Mexico as the crème de la crème. Well, that is, if we do not all apply for green cards and lucrative jobs here.
Any international student going to Columbia (or any top school abroad) will come to notice that the world is way smaller and more interconnected than we perceived it to be. You will know one person from Brazil from a summer abroad, and he will know all the Brazilians at Columbia. You will have one friend who lived in the Philippines, and she will have been high school friends with your suitemate. You will find out that the childhood friend of one of your Dominican friends at Columbia became friends with your high school friends in college. Why is this so? It is a very interesting pattern of connectivity and interaction that has led me to think that the people who gain admission into top schools like Columbia are all part of the global 1 percent.
Think about the percentage of Mexicans, Jordanians, Moroccans, or Chileans who could ever hope to study here. They are mostly the people who didn’t have to escape Palestinian refugee camps, fight in Rio’s favelas, or march alongside student protesters in Egypt. Instead, they grew up in the global 1 percent, interacting in academic programs abroad, similar school systems, summer vacations, or boarding schools. Even taking financial aid into account, simply having this degree of education denotes a privileged social standing in a developing country.
Yet how often do we embrace these networks and make something out of them? How often do we hold conferences with international students to help ameliorate situations in their respective regions? I spoke with other attendees at this conference, and it seems that none of them have been invited to another Latin American undergraduate conference. I told my international friends that I would be attending this event over the weekend, and none of them were familiar with the concept. I do not understand why we have to wait until we have careers or expired student visas to connect. It is now, in our most formative educational period, when we share the dynamism and energy of youth that we can achieve more if we work together.
This week will be hell for me. I have midterms, two papers, readings, and a take-home assignment. I shouldn’t have been at Yale getting four hours of sleep a night while attending a conference. However, the illusion that a really transcendental initiative for my country will emerge from discussions in Yale’s hidden corners convinced me that it was worth it. We should focus less on our college microcosms. Instead, we should recognize that just by belonging to our college world, we are already so privileged. We should open ourselves to other international students and branch out to those that will never be in our position.
The world is our oyster if we know how to work together.
The author is a Columbia College first-year. She is on the executive board of the Columbia Society of International Undergraduate Students and a writer for Nuestras Voces. From Outside In runs alternate Mondays.