While I was home for the holidays people kept asking me why I haven’t posted on my blog in a long while. I guess when I first got here I was 1) bored, and 2) having a difficult time adjusting to my new life as an islander. This blog is like my non-private journal that I share with everyone who cares to read it. It’s really kind of nice to be able to write something out and then send it off into oblivion, and it’s just me and my thoughts. It really helped me release some frustrations and get through the difficult times. For that I am grateful.
One of my favorite things about traveling is observing the different cultures, although usually it’s only for a short vacation. There is something special when you LIVE amongst a different culture for an extended period of time, you see things within the culture that you wouldn’t have learned at first glance. I didn’t realize it at the time but living in Spain for a semester at the age of 20 changed me profoundly in ways I didn’t fully understand until much later and I’m sure altered the course of my life in many ways. Now that I’m here 10 years later going through a very similar experience, I’m thinking about how living on this island has changed me after 8 months….
The diversity on this island has changed me. In my classroom of 23 kids there is a pretty equal split between cultures; some are islander, English, American, French, Canadian, Indian, and Dutch. We speak English in the classroom but I hear most children speaking with their parents in another language as well. These are parents from different countries who have relocated here, and many of the children spend significant amounts of time abroad in their parent’s country of origin. The thing that stands out to me is the whole-hearted tolerance everyone seems to have for others of a different culture. It is embraced, it is a non-issue, it is friendly, it is open, it is inclusive. It feels different than the states. I’m not saying American is racist, but it feels much more segregated and judgmental back home. I’m using the word “feels” specifically because I think everyone talks as though they are cool with diversity but there is a feeling I get that contradicts that. And I know I’m not alone. I’ve had conversations where non-Americans have told me they feel judged when visiting the US because of their accent or also noticed the segregation. Growing up in “progressive”, “liberal” California I experienced issues with race. I went to a mostly white school, racial groups stuck together in the quad during lunch and I was called a “traitor”, and “a “coconut” by the Mexican girls because most of my friends were white. That doesn’t seem to happen here.
I love America and in many ways I think it’s the best country to live in. However, I’m very aware here that we as a whole are viewed as snobby and intolerant by other cultures. And I understand why. I hear other Americans constantly talking about how everything is better in the states (I admit I am sometimes guilty of this too). I hear other Americans judging and even teasing kids who have accents. It makes me sad that this is the way we are viewed. It makes me sad that if I dig deep down there is a little of that judgment inside me too. I think it’s engrained in us at a young age that being different is bad. And I’m embarrassed by that. Especially seeing that that is not how the kids here are being raised.
Being here is opening my eyes a little bit, and I’m working towards being more tolerant and not automatically thinking how much better America is. Hopefully I won’t lose all of that when I get home. But I doubt it because even though I realize it and I don’t like it, I really am just another American snob. And when I went home over the break I felt it felt rich and wonderful and I didn’t want to come back. So I’m a work-in-progress J