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Posted by on Wednesday, March 29, 2017 in Cultural Awareness.

Kelly Perry, ’18,
College of Arts and Science, Student VUceptor

“Small. Unworthy. Insignificant.”

Kelly PerryWords I used to describe myself on the 8th of October during my first year at Vanderbilt. I was happy to be here…yet something was missing.

I am half-Thai, half-American and had spent my entire life in Chiang Mai, Thailand before moving to the U.S. to attend Vanderbilt. On campus, I came to see myself as a gutter – a space in-between; I didn’t completely identify as an international student, yet I didn’t feel fully American either. I desperately attempted to compartmentalize myself, and make myself fit into one identity or the other, because that was how I thought I’d feel I belonged. When I realized I didn’t fit the mold for any population on campus, I receded into my own shadow. I became quiet. The lotus flower within me shriveled.

My two pillars – my mother and father – listened to me as I talked about my shriveled spirit. They gave me a simple cure: water the lotus flower inside – provide yourself with the space and worth you deserve.

I gave myself one watering, one act of liberation: I told a story, my story.

Nothing significant, just an anecdote I told a hallmate about Loy Kratong, my favorite Thai festival that involves releasing lanterns, yet it made all the difference.

I began to see pride in my position as a gutter – using my in-between status as a lens to observe and enact change.

I recognized the power of storytelling and wanted to create spaces for others to feel liberated. As a Student VUceptor, I was able to do exactly that within my Visions group. Serving as the International Student Relations Chair on the Multicultural Leadership Council also allowed me to establish Lanterns, the first-ever international student cohort, with an aim to bridge the gap between international and domestic students through storytelling.

Stories are the fabric that weaves individuals together. They are the most sincere expression of empathy, if one person simply is willing to share their story and another is willing to listen.

I am forever thankful for Vanderbilt’s receptiveness. Thankful for individuals who are willing to listen to a little human like myself. And thankful for the space to allow my lotus flower to bloom. This is only the beginning.

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