I am Christelle Mputu, a Fulbright Student from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I am currently pursuing a Master of Science program in Applied Economics from August 2014 to May 2016 at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.
St. Cloud State University has many international students from a very broad number of countries, ranging from Latin America to Africa, Asia and Europe. Each year, it organizes a great event called “Passport to the World.” This event is free and open to the public, and showcases up to 28 cultures through performances and hands-on activities. Displays of cultural artifacts and song and dance performances from all over the world are showcased.
“Passport to the World” allows people from the city of Saint Cloud, especially youth from different schools, to have a better understanding of different countries and cultures: figuring out which continent is such or such country in, what makes a country different from another, what is its culture, which languages are spoken, their indigenous fauna and flora, etc. My observation from this event was that people tended to learn more by seeing and “experiencing” a country – even if that country is in fact presented only in a booth!
At “Passport to the World,” people received a passport at the entrance and a visa stamp from each booth they visited representing different cultures.
I presented on my country, Democratic Republic of the Congo; this was a good opportunity for me because many people who visited my booth didn’t know about Congo and confused it with the Republic of Congo. For those who did know about it, I found that many held misconceptions about my country, such as there are always wars everywhere.
Carrying my country’s flag and being its ambassador allowed me to show how big and beautiful it is: its cultural diversity, including its many ethnicities and languages, its unique fauna found only in Congo such as the Okapi, the flora from the Equatorial forest in the North, and the big mountains and volcanoes in the East.
Presenting on Congo and interacting with people who stopped by my booth was been an enriching experience not only for the participants, but also for me.
The Fulbright experiences I’ve had so far have changed my life in many ways. When you are living in your home country, you are fed stereotypes about people from the United States and elsewhere. After being in the U.S. and meeting people from different parts of world, you figure out that wherever people are from, they are all human beings with noble sentiments. This realization has completely changed my mind and led me to judge people for who they really are. My Fulbright experiences continue to make me more open-minded and accept diversity and differences, instead of rejecting them before even trying to know and understand them. This is what I will share upon my return home: accept differences!