Being a part of your community.
Over the next 3 months, I will be living in a small community outside the town of Mzuzu in Malawi, Africa to work for a non-governmental organization called Ungweru. I live and work with 7 other McMaster students. I also work with a number of local Malawians. Our hostel and office is located between Mzuzu University and Mzuzu hospital, and we are also surrounded by fields and homes.
I have been thrust into a community that operates differently than it does back home. People here walk almost everywhere, and they rarely run. When I walk (or run) by a group of children, they’ll almost inevitably yell “mzungu”, which means “white man” in Chitumbuka, the local language. It seems impossible not to feel like an outsider, but at the same time, it is impossible not to feel welcome. People may stare at me when I walk into the church or through the market, but so long as I treat others with kindness and respect, I am always treated that way in return. And what’s more, if I look past the fact that I am an outsider, and instead attempt to embrace every bit of the local culture for what it is, I begin to see that I can feel as much a part of this community as anyone else. I am not saying that this is easy. I’ve been here for two weeks, and by no means do I feel like a Malawian (nor will I for the 3 months that I am here). However, I do believe that an ongoing process of open-mindedness and a willingness to adapt to new environments will be the keys to my ability to grow more comfortable and feel welcome at my new home.
Though it’s thousands of kilometres away, the same logic can apply to becoming a part of the McMaster and Hamilton communities. Coming to McMaster for the first time can be overwhelming. Everyone enters the community with different opinions and beliefs, and sometimes it’s difficult to find one’s place amongst everyone else. Engaging in the greater Hamilton community may seem even more daunting. The city has so much to offer and is full of such a wide variety of people, that it may seem easier to exclude oneself from the Hamilton community and identify as a McMaster student only – an outsider to the rest of the city. Yet, if we allow ourselves to welcome new ideas and meet different types of people, it becomes clear that there is an entire community waiting to welcome us. So try joining some McMaster clubs, attending Hamilton events, and getting to know your neighbours. You’ll never know what’s out there until you allow yourself to see.