Alice Wilberforce, Nigeria

“There is a cultural lack of respect in the U.S. Everyone seems to have a sense of entitlement. A person thinks they are entitled to be arrogant, entitled to be disrespectful and just be their own god. There is no humility.”

Alice Wilberforce is a third-year Ph.D. student in educational studies who has been in the United States for four years. She grew up in Jen, a village of Karim Lamido Local Government Area in Taraba, a state in northeast Nigeria. She was raised in a Christian family during the mid-1970s as the sixth oldest of nine brothers and seven sisters. Her mother passed away when Wilberforce was almost six years old.

She pointed to her father, Wilberforce Ndu Gyada, as one of the key influences in her life. He was educated in England, where he studied the work of William Wilberforce and became passionate about educating people in his home village in Nigeria. Though he had the opportunity to remain in England, he returned home to Nigeria. In the persistent shadow of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, he founded elementary and high schools.

Wilberforce explained that her father did everything by himself — he had no building to teach in, so he found a tree large enough to provide shade for people to sit under and there he taught them lessons about the alphabet, hygiene and health. An English major, Gyada taught English and Hausa, a common language in Nigeria, to students.

“I enjoy the benefit of my father’s work,” Wilberforce said. “There are places I will go in Nigeria and they will say, are you a daughter to this person? Your dad changed my life.”

Wilberforce said her father —  a church elder, teacher and farmer — brought his crops first to the church after the harvest. Before he tasted any of his produce, Gyada gave food to widows in the community. During Christmastime, he provided chicken and beef to widows and made sure each one in the neighborhood had rice to cook and clothes to wear. When he passed away in June 2013, Wilberforce said the people who mourned him the most were widows who feared their social support would be taken away from them. Now, Wilberforce’s stepmom continues her late husband’s legacy of supporting widows each Christmas.

Her father’s humility stands in stark contrast to the unbridled arrogance which Wilberforce said pervades the United States. In her experience, pride and entitlement are two key characteristics of American culture.

“When pride becomes a center, an obsession, something is going wrong,” Wilberforce said. “There is arrogance, lack of humility and lack of respect for elders. There is a false sense of entitlement and a lack of cultural awareness. Here, people lack the awareness that there are other human beings in the world who are not necessarily where they themselves are from.”

For Wilberforce, observing this lack of cultural awareness shattered her illusion of the U.S. as a type of earthly paradise.

“In Nigeria, I was made to understand that the U.S. is a perfect place to be, it is like heaven,” Wilberforce said. “Coming here, I realized there is more to it than being ‘heaven on earth.’ That gives me a reason to pray for people here, that they would know the boundaries of human pride.”

While sharing her thoughts on American and Biolan culture, Wilberforce emphasized that these are her own experiences and observations and cannot be applied generally to international students — they give a window into her opinions of Biola based on her time here as a global student.

Wilberforce detailed cultural insensitivity that she has experienced at Biola which represents the antithesis of godly humility. When walking down from a dorm, a boy walking across from her put his arm in front of his nose “as if I were trash,” Wilberforce said. She looked at the boy, pitied him and prayed for him.

At GSPD events, Wilberforce said she felt excluded — Asian, Hispanic and Caucasian students all interacted together while Black students stood alone in a separate group. She said non-Black students talked among themselves and no one gave her the opportunity to contribute to the conversation. She stopped going to the events.

In daily interactions on campus, she said, polite greetings to passersby go largely unacknowledged. Wilberforce described saying “Good morning” to people while walking and receiving no response. She explained that greeting another person is a basic part of human interaction, but many people walk by silently. In class, Wilberforce said some professors ignored her as well, which deepened her sense of isolation.

“Lecturers engage in racism,” Wilberforce said. “You are in class and the lecturer is focused on the other people in class and doesn’t call you by name. Doesn’t say anything to you. Doesn’t even look where you are sitting. Then you think, should I leave? Am I even welcome here?”

Wilberforce assessed this lack of welcome from an eternal perspective.

“I wish that people here were actually culturally sensitive,” Wilberforce said. “I wish they knew that they will stand before God one day and account for how they treat other people. I wish that people are aware of human dignity, of one God who created everybody. I wish this perspective would be changed. But if wishes were horses, everyone would ride.”

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