Column: Island girl takes on America
Ever wonder what would happen if a freshman from the Bahamas asked another student for a “rubber” in the middle of her first college class?
Unfortunately, this has happened to me. In the first class of my college career, I was fiercely taking notes in pencil as my professor lectured. The professor spoke so fast that it seemed like he was speaking a foreign language.
As luck would have it, I messed up my notes several times and when I tried using my eraser the writing would smear across the page leaving a huge mess. Without thinking anything of it, I turned to a classmate and asked for a “rubber.”
The classmate was dumbfounded and I found myself getting impatient with him. I began to ask him to hurry up because I had already made “several mistakes.” Then I proceeded to say that “I know that I was going to make another one, so I ABSOLUTELY needed this rubber”
Imagine my surprise when the confused young man pulled out his wallet and reached for a condom to hand to me. In the Bahamas “rubber” is a slang word for “eraser.” This was the first time I had ever heard that the word could also mean “condom.”
As though this was not bad enough, my freshman year was full of embarrassing moments and culture shock.
My suitemate once asked me to go on a “short” ride with her to Augusta Mall. She found it absolutely hilarious when I fell asleep on the 30-minute drive. Being from an island that is seven miles wide and 22 miles long, I considered that drive a long car trip.
In addition to this, I walked to and from a lot of places back home. I had no idea that I would almost be hit by three cars and yelled at by a random woman to “get a car” while trying to walk to Walmart from my dorm.
The first time I saw Girl Scout selling cookies in the front of a grocery store I was amazed. I thought that girl and boy scouts were only on television shows and movies like “The Pacifier.”
So to find out that not only were they real but they really did sell cookies was an interesting moment. My roommate laughed so hard at me when I told her that I did not know Girl Scouts were real. I felt like an idiot.
Do not even get me started on the first time I ate jerk chicken here. In my culture, jerk chicken is spicy and often accompanied by a large helping of rice. I ordered jerk from a restaurant called Buffalo Wild Wings. They were sweet and paired with a basket of fries. I hated it.
I felt like I would never get used to the culture here. I always said something and found out later that it means something completely different here, or I would be laughed at for doing something. I often found myself questioning if I really wanted to get a degree in America.
Needless to say, my freshman year consisted of several late-night phone calls to my mother complaining. I was convinced that America was clearly not the place for me and that the cultural barriers were too different. Still, my mother encouraged me to keep trying and suggested that I try to get involved around campus.
Four years later, I am president of two student organizations, work two jobs in the Student Life Office, am involved with student media and plan to graduate in seven months.
As soon as I got more involved, I started to adapt to the culture so much quicker. It was easier to learn when I forced myself to be a part of it. Now, I cannot imagine going to school anywhere else.
It may have been a rocky beginning, but I love the way everything turned out.
Photo of the writer (center), her cousin, Alaine Sullivan (left), and WRDW’s Monique Williams (right), posing behind a Bahamian flag.