OPINION: Transitioning to American, WSU culture


Kamilah Gumbs

Sweet coconut sugar cakes, a common treat found in the Caribbean.

In August 2018, I packed my bags, boarded the plane, left my small island, Sint Maarten, and traveled over 2,000 miles to Wichita. 

The process to reach Wichita wasn’t cheap, nor was it easy. Between the costs of application fees — I still do not understand why I need to pay to apply to a school I’m not in yet — student visa costs, school and dorm supplies, and airfare, it was expensive. However, I made it. A year later, Wichita is a place I, sometimes, call my home. 

Being an international student, especially one of the few who is from the Caribbean, is a journey. Everywhere you go, the culture is different — even if you drive a town or two over, people do things differently than what you do in your own town. 

However, the culture shock that I experienced was drastic. I personally thought that I was fully prepared, as I was aware of the various lifestyles and understandings, but oh, I was wrong. 

Most Americans apparently just say “hello” or “hey” when greeting someone at night, whereas in the Caribbean, we say “good night” when entering and exiting the room. 

The second thing that threw me off guard was the inconsistency of the weather. 

Growing up in the tropics, we can experience heavy rains and straight sunshine within the span of 15 minutes. So I thought that I would’ve been able to handle the Midwest weather. 

Oh, how wrong I was. 

Between the 40-degree weather one day and 70-degree weather the next day during spring, snow in the middle of October, and T-shirt weather in December, I never know what to expect. Also, some advice, pray you are not in Shocker Hall during a tornado warning — those hallways are not spacious at all. 

Another difficult thing for me was the change of music. Hanging out at the predominantly black spaces on campus and in the community, trap music is what we consume 90% of the time. 

Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoy the genre, but I grew up on Caribbean genres such as reggae, dancehall, reggaeton, calypso, and soca. Going out to social events and parties, that’s the music I’m expecting to hear. So transitioning, I’ve come to the realization that the closest thing I might get to what I listen to regularly is “Wild Thoughts” by DJ Khaled featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller.  

Lastly, food has been a major change for me. I’ve never eaten as many burgers in my entire life as I have in the last year and change of living on campus. Back home, I’m used to having barbeque every week, eating plantain in 10 different ways, and smacking on various ground provisions such as sweet potatoes — the white kind — tania, and cassava. 

I also miss the various sweets and drinks that no one in the Midwest has ever heard about. Luckily, I’m pretty decent in the kitchen, so I can recreate certain things with the available ingredients, such as putting dumplings in my soup. Other than that, I have to dream about my family’s cooking and put reminders in my phone to go to the Mexican supermarket to get my plantains. 

The change isn’t all bad. I’ve honestly had some of my best moments here at Wichita State. I’ve made really special friendships with people that I know I’m going to have a connection with even when university is over. I’ve come to an understanding that I’m pretty decent with the whole writing thing, and got an opportunity to work for this prestigious newspaper. 

I also learned a lot about myself mentally and emotionally, and who I want to be as a person through the various sociology and political science classes I’ve taken so far. 

Being here at Wichita State is something different, and I will continue to use my experiences, both good and bad, to make an impact, not only for the local Wichita community, but the global community.