Photo Credit: Nancy Watkins

Asian American Heritage Month program speaker discusses embracing differences

Photo Credit: Nancy Watkins
Photo Credit: Nancy Watkins

Snow piled on either side of a car laying in a ditch. The roads were thick with a layer of black ice. It was hard enough for a college-aged Tulu Kaifee to learn to drive on the opposite side of the street, and now she had to navigate through her first winter in America. As Kaifee waited for road side assistance, she considered returning home to her native country of Pakistan but remembered she was in America to secure her dream job after graduation. Kaifee, an international student at Westminster College, stuck it out. Almost thirty years later, she developed her own job description at BB&T bank.

The Center of Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) held its Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration on Tuesday, April 5, in the Ingram Library Nook. Despite Asian American and Pacific Islander month being in May, CDI held their program in April to recognize the event during the spring semester. The event was a collaborative effort with assistance and sponsorship from the Richards College of Business, the International Student Club and the Office of International Students.

CDI invited Kaifee to be the guest speaker of the event, since her native country is a part of Asia and because of her financial expertise. She gave a brief discussion about her journey with self-identity, assimilating into a different culture and how those experiences helped her rise through the ranks of the finance industry to create a job description as unique as her. The event opened up with Kaifee explaining her theme: “walk together, embrace differences and build legacies.”

“The diversity that you bring when you talk about embracing differences, walking together and building a legacy doesn’t happen overnight,” said Kaifee. “It doesn’t happen without being involved in your community and putting yourself in places that aren’t comfortable.”

Kaifee received a full-ride scholarship to play tennis at Westminster College. At the time, Westminster had a very small international program; Kaifee, her sister and one other student were the only ones a part of it. Despite her homesickness, Kaifee knew she could not waste the opportunity for an excellent education for free, so she channeled her energy into maximizing her strengths in the U.S.

“A part of embracing differences is learning from your peers,” said Kaifee. “When you think of embracing differences, you never know when those differences can connect in the future and empower you as a person.”

Kaifee is from a family of entrepreneurs. As an undergraduate student, Kaifee met a member of the Amish community. The gentleman referred to her by her skin color, something Kaifee was unfamiliar with. Instead of taking the comment personally, Kaifee was intrigued by their differences because she had never met an Amish person. She took the time to know him and that interest turned to friendship.

After owning a golf retail shop for a few years, Kaifee decided to use her new found skills to give back to the community. She applied to BB&T as a commercial banker. After the interview, the employer offered her three different jobs, but came to the conclusion that a new job description was needed to maximize on all of Kaifee’s talents.

“She needed me to look at the spending power of different demographics and incorporate it into the bank’s model,” said Kaifee. “I did this by visiting the minority communities and connecting with them, so that they understood they aren’t just a bank account.”

Kaifee gave back to the Amish community by working with them in banking. After working as a bank teller for a few years, she was determined to travel and visit the world so she could reach out to other cultures . She spent eight months visiting different friends around the world and integrating in to their cultures.

“Invest in yourself,” said Kaifee. “One of the best ways to do that is walking together with people who are different than you and investing in them as well.”

Kaifee used her differences to build her legacy. Although she developed her job title based on her accomplishments and experiences, she emphasized that her title did not make her who she is. The employee makes the job description, but the job description does not make the person.

“If you take anything away from tonight, I hope it’s what I call contagious excitement,” said Kaifee, as she closed the Asian American heritage event. “You leave with the sense that you’re here to serve a purpose. Everyone has a skill set, a strength and something to give back.”




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