Far From Familiar: From giraffes to squirrels

International student observes nature and cultural differences.

The Shield interviewed three international students to see how they were acclimating to life at a U.S. university. In this weekly series, The Shield revisits Souleymane Mamane Illia, a junior English major from Niger, Africa to find out about his spring break and cultural differences he has noticed recently.

The Shield: What have you been doing for spring break?

Illia: I am spending spring break here on campus and it’s not so bad because if I go out I can see people walking around. What I do usually on the break is go to the gym or go by the lake and sit down and watch the animals, like squirrels and dogs. I’m kind of enjoying the nature. So, that’s what I do on my break and sometimes I try to take the time to complete my homework. So I’m also taking the spring break to do homework, enjoy nature, relax and do other things.

The Shield: What do you do on spring break at home?

Illia: We don’t have a spring break. We only have Christmas and Easter breaks and each break is only 10 days. It’s not the same. Here, on the break, everyone is traveling. But at my home university, not many people travel Only a few people travel to go see their families or their hometowns and then come back. But more than 50 percent stay on campus doing some activities to relax but no traveling.

The Shield: How do you stay connected to nature?

Illia: I’m a fan of nature. Even back home, I used to take time to go out of town just to enjoy nature and stay for a while. I used to go camping a lot back home with a friend. I really like  staying here on spring break because if it’s not during the break, you can’t see the animals going around each morning. I wake up early, around 6 a.m., and from my window I can see some squirrels, dogs and deer.

The Shield: Do you try to find a place where you can see nature when you travel?

Illia: In general, when I travel, I try to find a place where I can be in touch with nature. I’ve traveled to many African countries and I usually drive. It’s the best time when you’re driving from one country to another and spending more than 24 hours driving. You have the chance to go through different kinds of landscapes. Sometimes you will drive 50 miles without seeing a city. It’s really cool.

Whenever I’m traveling from my hometown to another city, there is a small forest and they have these giraffes. So whenever I’m passing through, I can see them from the car. They are beautiful.

The Shield: Do you miss that?

Illia: Yeah, I miss it because it’s something I’m used to seeing and now I don’t see it at all, so I definitely miss it.

I just miss home as a whole. My family, friends, classmates, everyone. But I really miss my friends. It’s good because we are always in touch on Skype, Whatsapp or Facebook. So, it’s really cool, even though I don’t see them or spend time with them physically, I can see them on video call or talk to them on the phone.

Illia: What has life been like for you in the U.S.?

Illia: I’m enjoying the weather right now. It’s not hot and it’s not cold.  I called my friends and they were complaining, saying it was getting warmer and I know I will soon go back to the warm and it is so warm. It’s like 107 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s really hot. If you’re not used to this type of temperature, you can’t stay there.

My hometown is  not a big town and there are not a lot of people concentrated. So, even though it’s hot, you can’t feel it like other places because we have big spaces and you can go out to relax  under the trees.

The Shield: Do people have to live differently to deal with the heat?

Illia: The way people live is totally different. You will see people sitting in the yard. You will see children playing. The windows are open and people are almost always together. What is different from here is you can find someone in America who has never talked to his neighbor. You are living by them and it’s difficult or impossible to do that back home. It’s your neighbor so you have to find a relationship with your neighbor. If he has something to do he has to go and tell you. If he has an event or something happening, he has to inform all the people in the neighborhood to come and take part in it. It’s really different, in most African societies the neighborhood is like a big family …. here people are individualistic, they are isolated and it’s everyone for himself. In our society, it’s difficult to see someone living like that.

We do have some places where people live like you do in America, but there are not a lot. So, whenever you go to these places you can see their lives are so different from the original life of the town. Whenever you go there, you will see the place is quiet. It’s like there is no one living so everyone is in his own house quiet. I wouldn’t like to live so isolated to myself, I’m not used to it.

The Shield: What are some culture differences?

Illia: You will see so many differences in the way of living. There’s this kind of mutual help. People will help each other. If you have a marriage or wedding ceremony, you have to inform all the neighborhood and your family, even people who are living in other cities. You inform them that you are having a wedding, not just to help you but to take part of it. It’s like a duty, if your neighbor has a ceremony you have to go, it’s a must. If you don’t go to his ceremony, it will be a big problem.

Usually when people go, they give you something, even though you have a lot of money or you are rich, people will give you money. People are kind of helping each other in every kind of circumstance.

It’s also part of the culture. When you go to the villages, you will see all the old men of the village gathered under a big tree after they come back from the farm. Which is usually located in the middle of the village, so the most important decisions to happen in the village are taken under the tree because the wise men of the village are spending their time there. There’s nothing that will happen in the village without their knowledge.