Student finds new perspective from world travels

Column by Katie Perkowski

I have never felt so stared at in my entire life — and not in a good way.

Everywhere I went with the group I was with, people stared at us like we were from another planet. And after living on their planet from May 14 to 30, it seemed like we were.

I arrived in India on May 14, and even before our flight from Amsterdam to Delhi took off, I felt like the odd person out. Waiting at the gate to board our flight, we were the only white or American people in sight, surrounded by men and women of all different cultures, including people from the Middle East and areas of Europe. People I had never been exposed to before.

When we walked off the plane and into the airport in Delhi, I saw men with large guns hanging around their shoulders — not a common sight at the airports I go to regularly. I immediately felt overwhelmed and outnumbered.

I was staying in Delhi with a group of UK students and two teachers as part of a first-year summer program called Writers Without Borders. About 12 students were on the trip, and the majority of our days were spent traveling to the Bawana Resettlement Colony — an hour and a half to two-hour bus ride from Delhi — and interviewing families that have received homes from Habitat for Humanity to see what the houses have done for them.

I’m a blonde-haired, green-eyed college student. Not too tall and not too short — about average. A million other girls with similar characteristics are running around UK’s campus wearing similar clothes, since it seems like a lot of people buy the same exact brands and styles. I had never really been out of the ordinary appearance-wise in any of my classes; I had never been the minority in any environment. Until now.

It wasn’t until this trip to India that I fully understood one of the points of a diversity class I took this past year. I am a white woman, living in a white person’s world in America. Some people argue that the difficulties for minorities of the past are not present anymore, and they are right in certain aspects because policies and social change have helped move some areas toward equality. However, whenever I look around in my classes, particularly my smaller journalism classes, there is maybe one person of a race other than Caucasian, and sometimes even that isn’t true.

Constantly being the only person with dark skin or of another race in a class made up of all white people must be discouraging, and to me the idea seems terrifying. When I walked around India, I was in a group of Americans, but that is the only reason I didn’t get completely overwhelmed. I know there were other factors that contributed to my feelings of being overwhelmed, like language barriers and a new environment, but I could not even imagine being so outnumbered all the time.

I don’t know exactly what type of point I’m trying to make, and I know that after only two weeks in a different country and being the odd person out I can’t say at all that I know what a lifetime of that is like, but I do know that I have respect for minorities who have the courage to live and to receive an education in a white person’s world. Because I don’t think I could do the same in their position.