MSU graduate student lands first place in International student essay contest
The Office for International Students and Scholars, or OISS, and the Office of Study Abroad, or OSA, teamed up for the 14th consecutive year to invite students to enter an essay contest where students who have studied abroad or are international students at MSU could share their experiences. Each office held their own contest and chose three winners based on his or her essay.
The three winning entries for both contests were honored and celebrated at a special reception on Dec. 2 at Abrams Planetarium, where the winners read their essays out loud. First, second and third place prizes were awarded to each winner, and the monetary prize was deposited into each student's account.
For the 2016 International Essay Contest, the topic of “In My Shoes” was created to give international students the opportunity to share their stories and own experiences as international students at MSU.
The 2016 International Essay Contest first place winner was graduate student Talitha Tukura Pam. Pam, who is originally from Nigeria, titled her essay “The Journey Here.” In her essay, Pam examines different journeys of her life in Nigeria and connects them to her life in East Lansing. Pam said the initial reason she decided to to participate was because of her love for writing. This developed into something more as she was able to share her personal experiences and differences that she has encountered since coming to the U.S.
“I started writing that and I ended up writing over 10 pages of different scenarios," Pam said. "I was like, ‘Oh I want to submit this, so let me see what their exact specifications are’ and I saw that it was four pages, so I had to cut out huge chunks of it … it was just something I did for fun.”
Pam received a scholarship earlier this year through The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program at MSU. The program recognizes undergraduate and graduate students from sub-Saharan Africa that have demonstrated both academic talent and a strong desire to give back to their home countries. Pam focused the first part of her essay on how she came to realize that her scholarship is the reason that she is at MSU and her understanding of how much this means to her.
“I’m here on scholarship, so the first part just talks about not believing that,” Pam said. “You apply for these things, but then you're never totally certain that you’ll get it, plus you tried before and you didn’t get it … so just the joy of getting it (the scholarship).”
Throughout her time in the U.S., Pam has encountered many new and different things. One experience she shared in the essay was about a time she went out to eat with friends and quickly learned about the hospitality differences between the U.S. and Nigeria.
“Back home, if you ask someone out for a meal, you take care of that person, you pay the bill, you do everything, you pick the person up, drop the person off,” Pam said. “But then here, you find out even couples that are dating are splitting their bills sometimes.”
The differences in hospitality in the U.S. and Nigeria was something different and basically a culture shock and is one of the many experiences that she has had since coming to the U.S., Pam said.
“So for a first-timer in the states, not knowing that, someone is like, ‘Talitha let’s go for a meal’ and then I just stand up and follow thinking that whoever asked me (is paying),” she said. “It’s not being greedy, it’s just back home it's if you offer, you cater for it.”
Pam said she encountered a scene back home that is comparable to what happens in the U.S. where people sometimes don’t go to a party or gathering simply because they were not invited or do not know the host. In Nigeria, this aspect is done differently. Whether you were invited or not, you still go — invitations are not a way to block people from attending, instead they're just a way to get the word out.
“I wasn’t invited for a party, but I still went, I had a lot of fun, I ate and drank,” she said. “I didn’t know whose party it was, I didn’t know what the event was for or the host was, but I still went because that’s the Nigerian way.”
Something else that is different here than compared to Nigeria is how the bus stops work, Pam said, where in Nigeria they are more busy and have more going on.
“The bus stops are always so quiet here,” Pam said. “Back home you usually find vendors around the bus stop selling stuff, especially little treats for people that need to grab a meal … so you find vendors around the bus stops.”
At these bus stops and on the bus, Pam said that people in Nigeria tend to communicate more with one another, and ask how someone's day is going and engage in small talk to establish relationships. Compared to U.S., where people are attached to their headphones and cell phones, they do not converse with other people and do not seem interested in engaging in small talk.
“People are talking loudly, asking how they are, ‘You’re going to school, you’re going to work, how’s that going?’" she said. “Here the bus stops are just so quiet and everybody is by themselves, no one’s even making eye contact … and then there’s the whole earphone thing, so I describe (in the essay) how earphones have just replaced conversation and the pain.”
Being a person who likes to write and read, but not someone who writes a lot, doing this essay and receiving first place was a wake-up call for Pam to continue writing, she said.
“I’ve always loved to read and to write and I always fit going to the library and catching a good book and enjoying that, but I don’t write as much,” she said. “I’ve written other stuff that has won small prizes or published somewhere … so I’m feeling I should do this more often.”
By participating in the essay contest and sharing her experiences and stories about Nigeria, Pam said she learned that people like stories and relate especially with stories that have an emotional affect.
“People love stories … sometimes we’re in a society that we love facts and where did you hear that, have you done research on it … but then sometimes people just want a good old story, they just want to laugh and have fun,” Pam said.