2. The Introductory Epilogue

Sophia Richter - Senegal


August 13, 2014

Hello!

So I realized that my first post was probably rather boring and random to a lot of you who aren’t yet* familiar with how my brain works. I figured it would require a follow-up introduction to the previous introduction. It’s an introduction to the introduction except that it came after the first introduction! Ok, think Star Wars – we like Star Wars – that should get things cleared up.

My name is Sophia Richter from South Kingstown, Rhode Island.

I have always loved learning about other cultures, studying world languages, and talking to people of different nationalities. I love music (ranging from German rap to Scottish Gaelic Songs). I love to be outdoors: hiking, rock climbing, swimming, long walks through the woods. I love cooking and eating. I love working: farming, librarianing, and, customer serving. I love driving. Anywhere. I love the ocean. I love dancing. A lot. I love star gazing and cloud watching. I love sleeping. Sleep is so good. I love to collaborate. To paint. To carve. And to knit. I love school. I love snow days. I love to laugh. I love telling stories. And I can’t wait to find out what else I will come to love in the next few months.

As I prepare for departure (woohoo!) I’ve been thinking about what to get as gifts for my host family. I don’t want it to turn into a western-culture promotion event. I don’t want to give them anything useless or wasteful. I don’t want them to falsely represent my community. And I don’t want to give my host family something that isn’t meaningful to me. I’m thinking about finding some locally-made products such as honey or corn meal or soap. These are things my host family will find familiar yet a novelty considering they are from the US – from Rhode Island!

Which brings me to one of my greatest interests.

I am passionate about globalization. I have been learning the influences and interdependencies of nations all over the world and the most interesting and pressing idea to me is the preservation of cultures. Being an American I have grown up with and around the Western ideals which primarily consist of individuality, self-expression, democracy and capitalism. I have written essays on western education systems in developing nations. I have explored the influences and results of colonialism in India, South Africa, Somalia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Iran, and Vietnam for some examples.

I am primarily passionate about globalization’s effects on the tribal based cultures of the Middle East and all over the continent of Africa -mostly, westernization: adoption of western ideas and values. Our relations with other nations are based on the way that they perceive us as well as the way that we perceive them. For example, Iran’s government doesn’t trust the US and vice versa because of conflicting values. Many people in the Middle East are angered by the pervasive quality of western culture; they see it as a poison, contaminating their own culture. In a way, this is true.

The adoption of Western culture has been a pattern since the beginning of European exploration and colonization. It is a result of trade and traveling, natural disasters and tribal wars, technological advancements and ideological expansion. As a result of international interactions, cultures mix and adapt to one another. The ideas from nations of the West are dominant not because they are better but rather because their international affairs extend farther. America has immersed itself into the affairs of many nations and has been unofficially dubbed “the world’s police”. This is an example of the US presence in the world. And yet, our international presence in developing nations does not always result in prosperity for them. And this is where we see the problem with globalization.

Without intentionally threatening another culture’s way of life, the presence of the US and the presence of western culture have been detrimental to many others. As the mission of Star Fleet is to explore but not to influence other species’ civilizations, how can we aid other nations in rising to their fullest potential, without doing it for them, without dominating over their way of life as the early colonists did so many years ago (Star Trek fans, anyone?)?

There must be a way for governments to work with developing nations and with impoverished nations without negatively influencing the future of their culture. Culture is identity. Up in my homeland** – Scotland – there is a really interesting situation. For the last three-hundred or so years, Scotland has been ruled under the British crown. Without going into a lot of history, the English culture has been adopted in many regions of Scotland. In recent years there has been a growing movement to bring back the Scottish (Gaelic) culture through music and language. In order to bring back language, it must become practical. Street signs must use it, books must be published in it. And schools must teach it. With the rise of their culture, a referendum has been announced for the end of September to vote on Scotland’s independence! This is just a small example of the unifying power of one’s own culture. Can we afford to let such power go to waste in these developing nations? ( Don’t you worry about missing any of the BBC news on Scotland’s referendum – I’ll keep you well posted.)

The idea that globalization would break boundaries by equalizing cultures is misguiding and perhaps immoral. Culture was created by our differences and yet, the beauty of them is that despite their different origins, there are many similarities such as religious stories and moral values.

I do not yet know what would improve the negative results of globalization, but understanding it is the first step. And programs like Global citizen Year seem to be a good start. First stop: Senegal!

And until I am ready for the big stuff, I’ll stick to Kenyon’s grist milled corn meal and pine infused soap bars.

Cheers,

Sophie

*I hope you keep reading – you’ll soon become familiar!

**With Scottish heritage, I was born in America, but besides that minor detail, we can pretend that I’m Scottish-born – I don’t mind.

Sophia Richter