"Like" & "Y’all"

Aniska Bitomsky - Ecuador


August 31, 2019

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It’s the morning of the second day of orientation week at Stanford university. So far, I’ve been overwhelmed with first impressions and the obscurity of some of my experiences. This feeling first arose on my first transatlantic flight from Lisbon to the US. Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean it hit me that this huge and heavy plane with these massive propellers was actually flying. I suddenly understood the high fossil fuel use of airplanes on more than a theoretical level. However, as they started serving lunch while I was watching a movie cuddled up in a blanket and spread out across two seats everyting seemed even more obscure. Handing me food while I was watching a movie was usually something my mum used to do when I was sick. Yet, this was happening in a huge flying airplane on my way to the West coast of the US. Anyway, after a 12-hour flight I finally landed at SFO, San Francisco airport and had most of the day still ahead of me, even though my body told me it was in the middle of the night and my brain was confused because it was tired, yet day light and adrenaline compensated for the feeling of exhaustion.
Then the program started and I must admit that my first impressions weren’t the best. Everyone was sooo US-American. “Like” was used as every second word and I had to realize that way more people use “y’all” with complete sincerity than I expected. I had a bit of a culture shock and thought to myself: “What on earth did I get myself into?” The next day turned out to be a little more reassuring which was probably due to the fact that I wasn’t as exhausted, more open to speaking with people and met UWC students. The schedule was quite intense and not so much focused on practical preparation like talking about potential dangers in country. Instead it was a lot about self-awareness, dealing with emotions and mindfulness. At first I thought this to be very confusing, but after I discovered that taking a bridge year it just not a thing in the US, the focus of the organisation
made a lot more sense.

There are still lots of experiences related to US Americans which still puzzle me, but after talking to other UWC students I discovered that we all felt the same. For example, we had a discussion yesterday about inequality and political power. What surprised me most was that some US Americans were very convinced that the US had the most successful democracy in the world, set the highest standard for upholding human rights and absolutely had the right to intervene in any other country to ensure this country were upholding their human rights. At first I was a little shocked, but it also helped me to realize something important. At UWC we are taught to respect other people’s culture and try to understand their opinion or perspective relative to their background, education and life experiences and not immediately judge them for what they believe. At UWC all of this was a lot easier and I never actively had to practice this type of reflection. However, here, I am learning to do constantly apply this mind set in the real world. Not only in discussions, but also in the questions or feedback round after we listened to a guest speaker. I am used to listening to talks by experts in their fields and the audience’s questions being more challenging to some of the statements of the speaker. Most of these US American high school graduates are listening to such a talk for the first time and react just the way I did two years ago, agreeing with everything the speaker says and just being amazed that someone is addressing this topic within the structure of a presentation. This experience made me realize how privileged I am as a UWC student to have received this education.
Enough of reflection, I did plenty of that for CAS. One skill I am trying to learn at the moment is handling my sister’s fancy camera and taking good pictures. However, I forgot a SD card reader for my laptop, so I’ll only be able to upload some pictures I took of Stanford university and San Francisco in the next blog post.
See you in Ecuador!

Aniska Bitomsky