Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The world is defining itself

I want to thank all of the exchange students who have come into my life. When I was in elementary school I knew about Americans, Russians, Germans and Mexicans. When I was in high school my world view expanded to include Asians and Europeans. We thought Asia consisted of China and Japan and Europe was anyone fancy like the French and Italians. Germany was still Germany and was not included in Europe but people who spoke in a certain way must all be Germans of course. Germans also drank a lot of beer and played polkas on their tubas for fun as we learned at Octoberfest in Park City. Anyone who looked Hispanic was Mexican and they spoke Mexican, not Spanish even though we took Spanish class.
Fast forward twenty years and many experiences later. My world map now has countless countries. I understand that Spain, Mexico and Ecuador are all completely different cultures and each has their unique and wonderful traditions, foods and personalities. Their dialects of Spanish are completely different. Their political systems are completely different. Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish. Europe now includes Spain and I understand that the Spanish from Spain are proud to be European. A Spanish tortilla is a thick potato and egg pizza type thing cooked in a skillet and has no refried beans near it while a Mexican tortilla is wheat or corn flour that is thin and griddled. Eating Mexican food is a completely new food experience to someone from Spain and eating dinner before 10 pm is just plain strange. Germany is also a part of Europe and has absolutely amazing and strong teens and real families who weren't just from two categories of nazis or nazi fighters, they were caring families trying to do what they believed was best for their children. The people of Germany are nothing like the movies I used to see. I see Germany's heart and it is good. Slovakia does not just consist of frozen Russians, in fact it is also European and proud to be so.
Did you know that Asia has more than two countries? Really! And they are all extremely different and have their own foods and traditions. I have learned that the people of Thailand are some of the most caring and friendly I have ever met. Their food, mmmmmmm yum! But, when I so proudly made "Asian" food from Thailand for my daughter from Korea she barely picked at it. She said, "this can't be Asian." After buying a Korean cookbook I started to see the vast differences between Thai and Korean cooking. No, all Asian food does not taste like Panda express. My Chinese student was so happy to find a "Mongolian" barbecue because it tasted like home but laughed at the food at Panda and said, "this is not Chinese food". I know now that Australia has a huge land mass, almost as big as America. I thought it was a little island like Hawaii. And, Australians are real people too, not just hunters who wrestle crocodiles!
Before we started this grand adventure my friend who had students in her home as a child told me that people are people no matter where you are. I get it! I really do! As the world separates into it's own countries and cultures it also comes together. As we understand the differences we can also understand better the similarities. We don't need to all be equal and all the same in every way. America is amazing for who we are but when we value people of other countries we will not want to change them into "one world". They already have their own country. Politics and religion aside, people are people, kids are kids and teens are teens. They all want to be loved for who they are. Aside from certain moral bases there are so many things in this world that are not right or wrong, just different. I used to think it was terrible if someone didn't wash their hair every day, then I was told otherwise by my Spanish daughter who said we would ruin our hair if we washed it so much. Her hair was always beautiful, never greasy and perfectly conditioned while she washed it once a week. Who was right? Nobody, it was just different. People all need a real experience to understand what the rest of the world is like. Otherwise, we all live in the TV with a little map and stories from other people to form our opinions of the world. Each exchange experience is different and it's not all good but it is all life changing. The world is defining itself. Once you experience a country from the eyes of an exchange student you can't ever look at it the same way. It will no longer be a tiny and insignificant spot on a map. It will no longer be a sentence in a history book. It will be real. For the good and the bad, it will be real.
My German student laughing at the "German chocolate cake" in America. Unfortunately, it's not German.

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