Finding Common Ground in Minnesota

“...the person who loves those around them will create community.” - Deitrich Bonhoeffer

I met Samiya in college in Minnesota. I was sitting at a table in the tutor center with my friend Iffy to get help with math, and Samiya sat down to join us. She was full of smiles and laughter. We sat there working day after day. They spoke Somali. Samiya would practice her Spanish with me, and we all struggled through the foreign language of math together. Samiya says I was the shy, quiet girl that they had to keep pestering get to open up to see the real me. I’m so glad they did keep me around long enough for me to get comfortable and open up because these two girls ended up being my closest friends from college.

Even though we went to the same school, we had two very different experiences. We were both required to take a placement test before signing up for classes to figure out what level of classes to take. I took mine completely unprepared; I barely managed to graduate high school, and I applied myself to this test the same way to get into college. I didn’t place very high, but brought my results to my advisor and got signed up with no problem.

Samiya, on the other hand, had only been in the states for about 6 months. She studied very hard for her test and felt prepared. She took it and scored very high. When she brought her results to her advisor, he said, “No way is this your score. No way a person like you can score this high.” She was devastated that she had worked so hard, and he assumed that she had cheated. She is trilingual, very smart and has lived in multiple countries. We knew he said what he did because of the way she looked.

When I was talking to Samiya about her move to the US, she said, “Out of all the places I’ve lived, I’ve experienced the most racism in the States. The other places I’ve lived, not as much. Sometimes I wonder why people say some of the things they do. I used to let it slide, but now I say something. I confront them about what they said that was prejudiced. I find that people are uncomfortable talking about racism in person and they’re afraid to voice their opinion, but racism is part of our daily life whether people talk about it or not.”

Samiya believes that Instead of being afraid of people who are different than you, you should just try to say hi. At least smile. Don’t feel nervous talking to a stranger or a type of person you haven’t spoken to before. “For me, I didn’t always to talk to new people, or approach them. Then I realized, what is the worst thing that can happen if I approach someone different than me? They won’t respond, that’s the worst that could happen. But the best case is that you have a conversation with them and enjoy it,” Samiya says. This is how Samiya and I became friends. She literally walked up to the table I was sitting at and started talking to me. We had no idea how similar we were despite how different we may have seemed.

I’m so thankful for this friendship and all it has taught me. Without Samiya I would not know how amazing Somali tea is, I would not know the traditions of Ramadan or that Syria has some of the nicest people you will ever meet. There is joy in loving people who are different than you. If we can learn to love those who are different than us, we could see how rich and flavorful our lives can be.

With her experiences as a TCK, Samiya says: “I feel like I can talk to anybody. One of the advantages I have from moving and living in other countries is being able to adapt and socialize in any situation. I don’t get stressed out by foreign environments because that is what I’m most used to. The disadvantage is that I feel like I get lost, I don’t feel like I belong to one certain culture. Sometimes I don’t feel like I even relate to the Somali people here as we don’t have the same background or experiences. People tell me at work that they don’t feel like I dress like a typical Somali and that I don’t act in the way that society thinks a Somali should act. Sometimes I’m told, “You act really white.” But that’s not correct. I carry different pieces from each culture with me every time I move. Different cultures made me not fully from one place. I belong to the world, that’s all it is. I’m a global nomad.”

Samiya is someone that lights up a room the second she walks in. Her laugh is contagious and she will poke fun at you until you laugh too. She cares deeply for people and is open to learning about any and every culture that is different than hers; this is what drew me to her. We became close quickly. She and I would go to our favorite coffee shop down the street and have conversations about school, life and traveling. She shared with me all the places she is from: Somalia to Saudi Arabia to Syria to Minnesota, USA. She says, “Home is not a structure, it is just a feeling.” We felt like we were the same person, yet had so many differences.

Samiya describes loving people who aren’t like her as “adventure”. She believes each person who is different to you opens up an entire new world for you. You explore life through them and see everything you thought you knew from another perspective. “You’re going to be narrow minded if you hang out with the same group of people who look, think and act the same as you. That’s boring, like a routine, and I hate routine. Different people add different flavor.” I really believe that she is right. Through your friends, you really can experience the whole world.