Because of the schools I have gone to (one a German based philosophy that attracted people of all sorts and the other an International Baccalaureate program) I have spent my life encountering people from other cultures and ethnicities. My parents have friends from all over the world, many who lead vastly different lifestyles than I am accustomed to. I think most of my knowledge – at least the knowledge that I know to be true and not propaganda – of other cultures/ethnicities comes from firsthand experience. I do not often watch or listen to the news, and I know enough people from the Middle East that I know the negative stereotypes are untrue. In general, I get information about the “other” from people I know – friends, family, professors. As a child, I learned a lot through stories that these family friends told of their travels or homelands. Having been in school for the majority of my life, I have also spent a lot of time taking classes in which we discuss other cultures, so this is another way that I have learned about places and people that are different from me. I am currently studying French, and through this I have learned a lot about not only French culture, but Cajun, Creole and African cultures as well. I am constantly learning new information from my peers here in Albion as well, because many of them come from different backgrounds than I do. Tonight was a perfect example of encountering someone from another culture – I got to meet the chief of the village in Cameroun where one of my professors was born. It was such an honor and so interesting to meet this man who lives a completely and utterly different life than I do.
This specific experience of communicating with someone across the world via email has been extremely interesting for me. I have learned a little bit about Lebanon, and a lot more about the ways in which someone my age thinks about the same issues that I do. Based on our backgrounds we approach issues in a very different way on a surface level, but fundamentally we believe in the same things – freedom, taking care of the environment, being understanding etc. This experience has been awesome in the sense that it has allowed me to discover this “other” in a more intimate way than I would have had I just done some googling or gone to the library. Having the opportunity to express my thoughts about tough and often touchy subjects without fear of judgment and to hear those of one of my peers has been freeing and interesting.
While I feel like I did not necessarily learn any new “facts” from this correspondence, I learned something even more interesting and cool and important, and it is this. Two girls, roughly the same age, living in very different countries that are allegedly supposed to hate each other based on a set of culturally ignorant, media created preconceptions have very similar beliefs when it comes to big, important topics.
While this could be surprising on some level – we come from two cultures that, on the surface, appear to be very different – it also makes perfect sense. The world has become more and more globalized in recent years, resulting in the sharing of information and ideas, primarily through the use of technology. Because the two of us both have access to the Internet and are both attending college, we also have access to not only social networks on the Internet, but physical social networks as well, which allow us to share ideas with our peers in an educated way. I think that the fact that we agree on so many fundamental and essential questions is indicative of the reaches of both technology and globalization, as well as the way that people are being educated today.
I do not think that I have ever used terrorism or the environment as topics to get to know someone, but bringing up these big issues at the beginning of this relationship has allowed us, I think, to be less censored and really get down to the meat of our ideas and thoughts. In all honesty, I was not sure what to expect from this exchange, especially on the topic of terrorism. What I received (obviously) was a well-written and thoughtful dispatch expressing essentially my own sentiments about terrorism – that it is a response to fear and anger, and is unfairly tied to the Middle East essentially through the fault of western media, creating stereotypes that are unflattering and untrue.
There is so much war in the world, so much hatred and division and unnecessary violence, but somehow it seems like the random acts of violence and terrorism have the potential to bring people together, even across cultural and geographic borders. It seems to me as though our generation is becoming more and more understanding and open, and due to our educations we are beginning to see these acts not as acts committed by a culture, but by a frightened individual. Discussing terrorism with someone who comes from a culture that is consistently and unfairly stereotyped as violent and aggressive has been such an interesting experience, because it has really made me realize just how unfounded many of the stereotypes are about the Middle East. I feel that using the topic of terrorism as starting point gave us the opportunity to talk about culture, race and identity in a way that is not always addressed between people our age. When we talked about land, and what we would do to protect our land, it made me realize that a lot of people would fight tooth and nail to protect the land with which they identify. This makes sense – protecting what you hold dear is a natural response – but it also made me realize that these cultural distinctions are not necessary. Fundamentally we are all the same – we are all human beings. And this is the most important thing to remember – that race, cultural identity and geography all play a role in who we are, but these are not the important things. What is important is to remember that we are all the same deep down, and that together we can work to protect this planet that we all call home.
I am so glad that we have been able to communicate throughout the semester, and it has been great to read your writings!