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It’s been about two months since I first set foot in The United States of America. Two months of new and utter fascination. There are lots of things I’ve found super interesting. For one, coming from Lagos, the largest city in Africa, I’ve been amazed by the skyline when driving through the countryside. It's a sight I never really got to see because of the high-rise buildings that surround my city. 


There are also new experiences that have left me quite confused. For example, I was really confused when people from Michigan would point to their palms to describe where they are from. Initially, was also confused about what a block meant and that caused me to get lost and walk from campus to Meijer on one fine Saturday morning. I really got those steps in. 


By far, some of my most exciting experiences though have been with food. At Phelps Dining and during discussions with students and faculty, I’ve encountered all sorts of delicacies. Cheeseburgers, Tater tots, coffee, fries, candy corn, corn dogs and burritos. Yes, Burritos!


My first burrito experience happened rather impulsively when I was about two weeks into college. It was after a two-hour theater class and I was with a couple of friends narrating how I spent 7 hours in Chicago and missed the first day of orientation because of some scheduling issues with my connecting flight. Somehow, we got to the topic of things I’m excited to try in America and burritos came up. It's always interesting to see people surprised by my “newness”. To see their faces lit up in amazement when I reveal I’ve never seen snow, or some other “facts” people in America might take for granted. 


“You’ve never had a burrito?”


“You mean you’ve never had a burrito?”
“Still  no”


We ended up heading straight for the Hope parking lot and driving about 7 minutes to the closest burrito selling place. We get out of the car and head in. And then I’m confronted with it. Options, options, options. After a couple of minutes of looking at the menu, I think my friends got the idea that I didn’t know what to pick. And so, they helped me out.   


“One beefy-5-layer burrito with seasoned rice and creamy jalapeno sauce”

“We’ll have that with some Baja blast please” 

We wait for what feels like an eternity and then finally, we hear it. 

“Your order is ready”


I won’t tell you the end of the story or what I think of burritos yet. But I imagine some similarities between my experience with burritos and hopefully, your experience with trying new things. And in the next few steps, I hope to share lessons that can ease your journey with what is new, different and sometimes scary. 


Step 1. It’s important to have good people around when you’re trying your burrito. You need people who will tell you what they think looks good on the menu. In extremely new circumstances, it pays to remember that you basically have no reference point and you do need people who understand where you are coming from and can match you with something you can at least hold down. People who truly care about you and whose judgement of what you find unfamiliar you can trust. 


For me, I’ve found these friends in my Mentor, my Host Family, fellow Phelps scholars, other international students and the wonderful professors here. For sure, these different people have different ideas of what the best burrito on the menu is. But still, they can guide me. They can hold my hand and help me choose while I try to figure out what exactly it is that I like. 


Step 2. Listen to the stories of others who have attempted to eat burritos. Personally, stories are especially important for my career and calling. The stories of strength, resilience and courage that I was fortunate enough to hear in high school were what inspired me to work on the book I published with Amazon during the gap year I took just before college. The book features the stories of Presidents, Youth Activists, Nobel Prize Winners, YouTubers, Leading Academics, & Innovators of Diverse Ages, Professions, Countries and Continents. It tells the lessons they had learnt over their careers and how young people can apply those principles to get to the top. 


At Hope, I strive to hear the stories of sophomores, juniors, seniors and professors.  I want to know the things they enjoyed doing and those they kind of wish they hadn't. I choose to hear their stories of what is good on the menu and what trying each item feels like. I invite you to do the same. 


Step 3. Have a napkin. Even if you aren’t going to use one. New experiences like burritos can get messy and backup plans do help. It's always good to have something you can fall back on just in case what you expected turns out not to be so. 

Step 4. It's perfectly okay not to like Burritos. And it’s also okay for other people to know you don’t like them. Not everyone is cut out for a “beefy-5-layer burrito with seasoned rice and creamy jalapeno sauce”. And not everyone is cut out for the new experience you are being encouraged to try.  It is often better to acknowledge and respect your boundaries while simultaneously pushing to expand them. This paradox, of engaging and not engaging, can be tricky to achieve, but it is a crucial step in our personal development.

Step 5. Please, please, please, remember that there are people who can't afford burritos… literally and figuratively…. I guess coming from a developing country has really helped me to put this in perspective. In the US, 30% of those who finish high school won’t move on to college. In my country, Nigeria, that number is as high as 80%. We need to remember those who are getting less for no fault of theirs but because of social, economic and historical forces they cannot control. Not everyone can afford new experiences and this realization is key. Through our own process of trying out new things, we need to get educated on the challenges that are confronting our world. We need to use the education we get from the menu and the experience of burritos to fix our world. It is our duty as those who benefit from privilege of any sort. It is our duty as humans. 


To round off, my first experience with burritos wasn’t all I wanted it to be. I think my not being used to the flavors probably had something to do with it. To be fair though, my friends took me to Taco Bell, which I’ve come to learn can be the low end of burritos.  But I have tried Burritos again, and to an extent, I’ve enjoyed them. I guess that’s also part of the process. Understanding that one taste, one bite, one flawed experience doesn’t represent all that there is. So, friends, go out there, scan the menu, order the burrito that life will present to you and take a bite. Your first experience may not be exciting, but the realizations and education that follow will be well worth it. Thank you!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Disclaimer: This Speech was Presented at Hope College’s “IMAGES: A Reflection of Cultures” showcase on Saturday, Nov. 9. The international showcase featured over 60 students from several countries who shared parts of their culture through presentations of dance, skits, songs and speech. The event took place at The Knickerbocker Theater, Holland, Michigan, USA.