Combatting an Erasure of My Identity: Feeling Unforeign in Oldenborg

By Vids Hingad ‘25

A ticket from Terminal 2, Chattrapatti Shivaji Terminal in Mumbai to LAX. A 26-hour journey. Four oceans in the middle.

Before boarding the flight from Mumbai to LAX, my dadi (grandma) always used to put a teeka on my forehead. This red dot symbolized that, no matter where I am, she would protect me and guide me. Guilty of wondering what strangers would think, I used to wash it off the moment I’d enter the airport. This is the way I’d explain how I used to feel in the U.S. – scared that no one would understand my traditions.  Two years later, I started feeling more scared that I was starting to lose pieces of my Indian identity. And that is when I found my home, not just away from home: the Spanish Hall in Oldenborg, Pomona’s Center for Modern Languages and International Relations.

Oldenborg HallLiving in Oldenborg, the international residence hall at Pomona College, was a transformative experience for me. As an international student, I arrived on campus feeling both excited and apprehensive about the journey ahead. However, from the moment I walked into Oldenborg, I knew I had found a community that would help me feel connected and supported.

Living in Oldenborg was more than just a physical space for me; it was a cultural oasis in which I could express myself and find acceptance. The rich diversity and inclusivity of the community was like a kaleidoscope of colors and languages that resonated within me. It was as if the walls themselves could speak, telling the stories of the people who called it home.

The community was alive with energy and creativity, as students shared their art, music, and languages. Where no one felt that their words were lost in translation, but, rather, we felt heard. One night, I remember sitting on the sofas of the Spanish lounge and hearing someone play the violin. It made me nostalgic for times spent listening to my grandfather’s collection of musicians playing the sitar. The melodic notes of the instrument transported me to another world, and I closed my eyes, feeling every vibration within me.

Another evening, we gathered to watch short films from Spanish-speaking countries. The films were in Spanish, but the language was not the focus – it was the fact that many individuals came together to feel a sense of community. Comunidad. The images on the screen told a universal story of love, loss, and redemption that resonated with everyone in the room. We celebrated our shared shreds of humanity.

Living in Oldenborg was not just about celebrating our differences, but also finding commonalities. I will always cherish the shared meals in a foreign language, recipes, and stories, discovering that despite our diverse backgrounds, we all had similar hopes, dreams, and fears. Our conversations were like a tapestry of words, weaving together a beautiful, complex, and ever-evolving picture of our global community.

Vids in long skirt against glittery backdropYou may wonder how, when my mother-tongue is Hindi, I found myself living in a Spanish hall. That’s the beauty of language – it doesn’t matter if it’s Hindi or Spanish – it’s about celebrating a way of knowing and communicating. It’s about not being lost in translation.  It’s about being found in a shared commonality. It’s about juxtaposing curiosity and comfort, to learn a language and unlearn formality. Living in Oldenborg has made me realize one can find spaces of warmth and congeniality where differences are appreciated and similarities are celebrated. Calidez y congenialidad.

Oldenborg, room 125, will always remind me of feeling connected to the global community here at Pomona College. It provided me with opportunities to learn about other cultures, expand my horizons, and build meaningful relationships with people from all over the world. And, perhaps most importantly, it helped me feel a sense of belonging and support during a time of great change and transition in my life.

Where else can one foster a culture to unite people across borders and create a sense of belonging and connection that transcends language and geography…