Identity and Intellectual Performance – Perspective of a Foreigner Student

For my Contemporary Pedagogy class we were assigned a few reading assignments and the “How stereotypes affects us and what we can do” article by Dr. Steele really caught my attention. In this article, Dr. Steele narrates the experiences he had during his career as a professor and researcher in human psychology, and how these experiences led him to understand how social pressure and stereotypes result in lower performance of minority groups, such as black students, women and latinos.

I am originally from Brazil, and it was as soon as I joined Virginia Tech that I realized that the cultural struggle required to belong posed a great challenge. In other words, I realized that, in order to be accepted by my peers, I couldn’t behave the same way I used to in Brazil. In essence, jokes that are funny in Brazil don’t necessarily are funny in the U.S. (and vice versa), people don’t greet each other with hugs, and more specifically, people seem to welcome you as a colleague, but are skeptical on having you as a friend.

In the article, Dr. Steele states that minorities tend to agglomerate themselves with people belonging to their own identity, and I believe this is in result of the cultural distance posed in the environment. Or, at least, that’s what happened in my case. Feeling distant from belonging in the States, I sought to find others of my kind, where I could behave like myself and feel like I belong, however the need to adapt to the new culture in order to belong outside of my cultural niche was still something very important. I therefore, make the daily effort to adapt to the American culture, since I believe it’s my responsibility to adapt to the culture rather than having people around me to adapt to my costumes (I’m the fish out of the water afterwards, so I might as well learn how to walk rather than insist on swimming).

I’m obligated to say that I never felt discriminated due to my nationality, but Virginia Tech does a great job on spreading diversity on campus and I’m thankful for being in such an inclusive campus. I do however, sometimes feel that preconception is present in a way to stereotype some academic performance, but rather than feeling stigmatized (as the article states being the reason of underperformance in some groups), I use this preconception as motivation to do an outstanding job. It is sometimes in our hands, to show what we’re capable of.