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Between The Lines: Racial assumptions can get on your nerves

When I came to Ohio University, I wasn’t really thinking about demographics or race. In fact, it was probably the last thing on the list of things I looked for in an environmental setting.

On an average day, I get asked if I’m an international student at least once. In fact, I get asked so many times if I’m from China or Japan that I keep a tally. For the record, I’m Korean. For another record, I’m South Korean.

So far, I’ve been asked at least 50 times this semester if I’m an international student. I’m not going to include all the quarters from last year when I got asked. That’s a ballpark figure.

Fifty? Yeah, I was surprised, too. Looking back on it, I laugh hysterically from all the embarrassing reactions that I’ve gotten from students and faculty who have called me an international student from my past two years here.

I call it the “Three Count” method. What’s that? I made it up this year to count how many seconds it takes for someone to blush from pink to tomato-paste red after I reveal that I’m not from another country.

One … two … three …

Conversations often include some very generic but frequently repeated questions:

“How long have you been in America for?”

“Wow, you speak English very well! How long did it take for you to learn?”

“Are you from China? Japan? Oh, you’re Korean? North or South?”

In all honesty, most of the time I don’t care if someone calls me an international student. It’s an honest mistake, right? The international-student population on our campus makes up 7 percent of the undergraduate enrollment. One percent is made up of students with an Asian and Pacific Islander background.

So, it’s safe to assume that I’m part of that 1 percent, right?

For the record, assumptions aren’t really good conversation starters. I didn’t particularly enjoy an incident with my place of employment when there was a question regarding my I-94 forms and I-20 forms regarding my arrival and departure from the U.S. and student visas, respectively. … I wasn’t born in Korea, guys.

I hail from the Land of Erie, folks. Cleveland. Sure, the first couple encounters were OK — I understood that much — but after a while, it gets annoying. Is it possible to not assume I’m an international student?

What I’m getting at is that OU is a very diverse campus with students from all around the world. With that thought, don’t assume that one person is from one specific place in the world. For all we know, I could’ve been born in Mexico or Canada. I could be from Japan. I could be from England. My cousin actually lives in Wales and I have cousins in New Zealand.

I’m not from Asia, but my heritage is. I’m proud of who I am. Just don’t assume that I’m not from the U.S.


Hannah Yang is a reporter for The Post. Email her at

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