Posted on: April 9, 2023 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Photo By Pixaby

By Abigail Niedospial, JRN 111 Student

Imagine coming to Moraine Valley from another country, unsure of the world ahead.

On March 28, the MV panel “Global Perspectives on Loneliness” set a new way of introducing the struggles of social isolation and the difficulty of fitting in for students from around the world. 

Three passionate faculty members sat down in front of an eager crowd, proud to share their experiences and advice through a series of questions with those who are having a hard time finding their place in American society. The event allowed an open discussion with the audience as a way to help each other.

“I wanted a panel where we could share our lived experiences, that students could identify with and ultimately know that they are not alone,” says Shanya Gray, a counselor here at Moraine and coordinator of the event.

“I wanted to have a panel that was real.” 

Gray grew up in Barbados, an island nation with a population of less than 300,000. The transition from one culture to another proved challenging as an international student. 

“I had to actually adjust moving here to the U.S. because I was like, ‘Wait nobody’s saying hi. Nobody’s speaking,'” Gray said. In Barbados, she says, “it’s unusual for you to talk to people you don’t know.

“One of the things I had to adjust to when I came here was that I often had to make plans ahead of time. I can’t just call up my friend and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Can I come over?’ That is not a norm, a social norm here in the American context as much as it is on the island.”

Surprisingly, Gray was not the only one on the panel who had felt the same regarding U.S. customs.

My parents were born [in Greece] and my parents knew nothing about American culture. Now I’m expected to learn a new culture.”

Professor Nickolas Shizas

Greek American psychology professor Nickolas Shizas stepped in to share his side of loneliness from being raised in the U.S. with parents who had not adapted to the norms.

“My parents were born [in Greece] and my parents knew nothing about American culture,” Shizas said. “Now I’m expected to learn a new culture.”

He said his parents would talk about the children of his cousins “who started working at 10 years old, driving cars at 10 years old, and that’s not the way things are here. It’s illegal. It was a totally different cultural experience that I had to learn.” 

Anni Rasmussen, an addiction studies professor, focused on the strong connections in her home country, Denmark.

“People mostly eat at home instead of going out,” she said. “I think in hindsight, being here, when people are inviting people into their homes, it kind of breaks another layer of privacy in a good way.

“That’s the way we get to know each other: by actually stepping into each other’s homes instead of just meeting outside.”

Gray then shifted the discussion to allow anyone from the audience a chance to share their experiences. 

The only individual to raise her hand was Kaitlyn Ta, 20, a global studies major at Moraine. 

“In a lot of Asian cultures, we connect through food,” Ta said. “You have a lot of family-style meals, and it’s interesting when it comes to the American perspective because like you guys said, it’s very individualistic and you kind of look at yourself and more to your close friends and family than everyone around you.” 

Channeling back to the panel, Gray raised the question, “How did loneliness shape who you are today?”

Shizas jumped at the opportunity to respond.

“It made me work harder to learn the language, to be a good writer and to be able to fit in,” Shizas said. “I learned how to socialize with people, and I learned how to tell jokes. I learned how to be funny.

“I tried to meet one of my neighbors once and they kind of gave me the side-eye like, ‘Where you from?’ and I’m like, ‘Burbank.’ ‘Where are you really from?’ ‘I’m from Burbank!’ That’s where I came from and I said, ‘Now, my parents are from Greece’ and he’s like ‘Oh that’s what I meant.'”

After a fair share of laughs, a girl from the audience whispered under her breath to a friend, “I love this man.”

The conversation then turned to what students can do to actively involve themselves in others’ lives.

“Volunteer somewhere,” Shizas said. “It’s a great way to build your community because you volunteer, you work with somebody or other people who care about the same thing that you do.”

To many of the panelists, finding your place is about a sense of shared responsibility.

“Let’s continue to embrace each other and think about community and coming together,” Gray said. “We are stronger together, and it really does take a village.”