Celebrating my African family
Summary: You can’t buy love (or trust); you have to earn it. You need to invest time and energy into establishing genuine relationships and building a community. Dear student group leaders, I know what it feels like to have a million things on your plate AND to have to be there for others, but please invest in creating a community. There is absolutely no point in working so hard if nobody feels valued enough to come and reap the fruits.
The MIT African Students’ Association (MIT ASA). My Day 1.
Being an introverted international student who is suffering from imposter syndrome is hard. It’s not that you don’t want to make friends or you’re rude. Sometimes it’s that you don’t know what to say. Other times people might not understand your jokes or references because of cultural differences. And when things are really hard, you wonder if you truly belong 😟
I would like to take off the former president hat and talk about my experience with the ASA as an intimidated freshman 😢 I discovered the ASA at Activities Midway and was really excited to learn more about the community. As someone with acute homesickness, I spent more time crying in my room than I did trying to make friends. But that didn’t stop people from reaching out to me. Kayode Ezike, who was the president at the time, poured his blood, sweat and tears into making us feel welcome. Sometimes he would reach out to check if we were doing okay. Other times, he would invite us to come meet other members of the community at events. I was very inspired by how committed he was to getting us plugged in, by how the exec board at the time organized professional development and community-building events, and by how members of the community reached out to us just because.
One of my favorite memories of the ASA is of our potluck-turned-cookout in New House in my freshman year. It was late October/early November and it had started getting cold. We made jollof, chapati, grilled chicken and fried plantains, and we had as much fun preparing the food as we did eating together.
I grew fonder of the ASA over the years. Grateful that it had made me feel like I mattered when I felt lost in a big, new world. Thankful that it had given me a taste of home every once in a while (even though half the time the Ghanaians and the Nigerians were fighting over whose jollof was better 😏)
Last semester, when things got REALLY rough, one of my acquaintances said to me, “I feel like you are overdoing this whole ASA thing. It’s just a student group but you are giving too much to it”. I honestly don’t blame them because they didn’t understand. Firstly, it wasn’t about what it WAS — it was about what it COULD BE. Also, they didn’t understand what the ASA meant to me and how it made such a huge and intimidating place like MIT feel like home. THAT was why I was willing to “give too much to it”.
I have seen several generations of ASA leaders working to make life better for current and future students and I have been a beneficiary of their toil and sweat. To former, current and future generations of the ASA, I want to thank you for doing your best. We are all MIT students and to be honest, it’s hard for everybody. So thank you for playing your part in creating a place I could call home.