International In-Between

Full disclosure: I’ve never really considered myself an
international student.

Sure, I was born in France and have spent summer after summer
in the country’s Western region, but I like to think of myself as a native New
Yorker—someone who can order a Dollar Pizza at 2 a.m. with the best of
them. 

I’ve been lucky enough to have a window into
two different cultures—not only because I was raised on two different
continents,
but also because of the diversity of culture engrained in me from birth. I’ll
start there.

On a cold night in a quaint town outside Paris, my parents
argued over which family members to let into the delivery room: ma
tante 
Natalie, of
course, with oncle Patty Pat consulting on the procedure.

Uncle Pat was an obstetrician who told us to call him Patty Pat
in the hope that his “I could talk about trains for hours” demeanor would go
unnoticed. Aunt Natalie, on the other hand, would grip my mother’s sweaty hand
the whole way, making her laugh despite the pain. She would instruct my
American father to sweat it out in the waiting room, pacing back and forth, muttering curses about les
putains français.

A few hours later, I came into the world surrounded by a
close-knit family, brought together as much by their differences as their love
for each other. Shout out to the French healthcare system, by the way. 

Two years later, I was chasing mice in a cramped NYC apartment.
My brother, already in elementary school, found a pastime in assisting me with the hunt.
Devious from birth, he knew that it was my intention to eat whatever I could
get my little hands on. Ever helpful, he made
certain to guide me toward the more unappetizing items—critters he deemed
hilarious.

At a Christmas party around this time, I bit off more than I
could chew, and my Aunt Natalie saved my life. Everyone knows how parties like
this tend to go. My mom’s side visited from France, and my dad had a few new-generation New York beatniks over, intellectualizing Christmas.

Eggnog flowed, leaving my brother and I to entertain our French cousines. Left to my own devices, I began
searching for the next thing on which I could chew.

Before judging, consider how appetizing shiny coins look
to toddlers. Worse, we actually gift chocolate coins to children to eat! I
blame society.

Nonetheless, my aunt soon noticed my blue face and rushed over.
She swept me into her arms, my parents looking on incredulously, and held me
upside down. “J’suis désolée,” she
repeated as she shook me as she would a sandy beach towel. After a
moment, a penny harmlessly rattled onto the floor.

Eight years later and back in France, I was racing my brother to
the beach on our rented bikes. I knew the way by now, after many summers of
similar races. There was a hill up ahead, but I was young and naïve and smelled victory.

Regarde ça!” I
shrieked as I stood on the pedals to get more leverage and passed him. My
brother laughed as I leaned my chest into the handlebars and made fart noises.
Again, no judgment.

He would beat me up the hill that day and down to the beach, as
he would many times after that. That didn’t deter me from racing him again,
though. We would go on to race to the movie
theater, the candy shop, the arcade, the crêperie and even the next town over that summer.

At the end of the day, my mom and her sister would wait with a
reluctant smile. Only my grandma would voice what they couldn’t: “Ugh, mais
les enfants, c’est dangereux!”

Seven summers later, I was elbow deep in murky French water,
scrubbing dishes. Every time I finished, as if by clockwork, another server would appear with a brand-new pile
of dishes.

Tu n’as pas encore finis, là?” they joked. Long after
the cooks had finished their last order and the servers began to unwind at the
bar, I was still covered in suds. I finally finished and stepped out of the
kitchen to a rousing cheer from the employees.

Merci, merci” I
said with an ironic bow. Ma
cousine
 laughed and pulled me
up to the bar. I grabbed myself a ‘soda’ and joked with those around. We
stayed up until four that night, playing guitar and singing the Beatles. My
cousin drove me home, we both passed out, and I was back at La Cornelly the next morning at nine.

France was my starting point, but my second home in the Big Apple is no less important. In my opinion, New York is the greatest city in the
world. I could easily fill a column with stories about my Nigerian doorman who
brought me a beer on New Year’s or the times I’ve bought candy on the B train
from kids who “ain’t here with no basketball team.”

My transition from NYC to Claremont, too, provides more than
enough material for a hit TV show (chronicling the promiscuous shenanigans of
one Hank Moody), let alone an article in my college paper.

I find, however, that the many summers I spent in France with my
family are really what made me the person I am today. Societal differences
aren’t interesting in and of themselves. It’s the compassion between cultures and the appreciation of moments unique to specific contexts that are special.

Look for the good in alien territory, and I promise you’ll find
it. I know I did. In this way, I am an open-minded, full-hearted international
student.

Graham McMillan CM ’16 is an international relations
major who can whistle anything. Shocking as it
may seem to the general population of Claremont McKenna College, he’s
never visited Seattle. 

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