Looking from the Outside: USA

Leaving your home for two whole years to study at a UWC college is an adventure, but at the same time it is a challenge to overcome – you change your circles, the languages you hear around you and have to get used to the new behaviours of the people around you. Most importantly, you have to realise that you are now a representative of your country and culture; you are the smaller model of your state within a bigger international community. Here at UWC Dilijan students are exposed to various nations and cultures, which inevitably affects the way they see their own country.

One of the students once said, “We all come here waving our flags and showing who we are. By the time we leave UWC Dilijan, we become even better citizens of our country than we were before coming here”.

The “Looking from the Outside” series is going to tell the stories of nationalism revealed through the multicultural connections and bonding with peers from around the world. How they act as a group within the wider community and how the perception of their homeland has changed since they moved.

Isabelle – Santa Fe, New Mexico
Reece – Monticello, Indiana
Cody – Kalispell, Montana

Despite their distance from their homeland, students still remain a part of their native community. One way to stay connected is by following the news and current events.

C.: Of course, we follow the news, but in terms of our country, even if we weren’t precisely following the news we would still hear about it one way or another. The US is very pivotal in a lot of international relations one way or another.

R.: While back at home, I would rather prefer to follow the news of my local community: once I moved, though, I would follow national news, as a way to stay connected with whatever is going on back home.

I.: For me it was rather, “Well, I don’t think that anything huge can change in 24 hours”; there was the general environment of trust, so I didn’t feel the urge to have constant updates on local news. That’s why it seemed more important to follow international news, because sometimes it seemed that not much is happening in the US, I didn’t have the sense that anything bad can happen while I’m not checking the news.

What’s the most recent event that has had a great influence on you?

It might seem that there would be no surprises here, but apparently, there’s one urgent issue storming USA that no one would have expected:

R.: They cancelled Twinkies!!

A Twinkie is an American snack cake, marketed as a "Golden Sponge Cake with a Creamy Filling" that were first introduced to the masses back in 1930.

R.: Actually, now a company in Mexico bought it and now they are going to produce it. Nevertheless, Twinkies were unavailable for 6 months and there have been national uproars around the US. They have been so involved in the life of the nation for so long, they were in all the national TV shows, there has been so much advertising for it and it was a part of the image of a happy family. That’s why people flipped out when they heard the news about cancelling the Twinkies.

I am aware of the fact how ridiculous this sounds. But the fact is that if a person hasn’t had a Twinkie, they just don’t belong in the US.

Once it was ascertained that the Twinkie-crisis was resolved, it was safe to turn the conversation to the silver lining of the US as well as international news – the radical changes that will be brought about by the recent presidential elections in the US. What could possibly happen as a result of this decision?

I.: I think the worst part is that everything that has been unleashed by the recent elections… people now feel that their racist attitude is justified and that now they can commit hate crimes as opposed to thinking about them. And also, there’s the issue of the lack of balance in the Congress (a reference to the majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives)

All the progress that we seem to have made in terms of human rights, the LGBTQ community and the environment, now seem to be repealed not because of him (the President) but because of what he has allowed other people to do. The trans-bathroom law has been repealed in many states, the streams are allowed to be polluted, they are threatening to abolish the environmental protection agency and the department of education. Or, for example, the “Muslim Ban” – it wasn’t the President himself who wrote it, but it was people who he appointed.

C.: This lack of responsibility, lack of acknowledgement and, furthermore, lack of an attempt to clean it up is what makes me outraged. I have fought so hard for these rights, and all of a sudden, it’s gone. Anti-LGBT crimes in my region have skyrocketed. Also, there are a lot of white supremacy groups in my town; they organised meetings in the local library, and we used to go on a march against them. We couldn’t kick them out because the library is a public space, but we went there to show we are against it.

I.: With all these changes happening, I am sure that a lot of people regret having voted the way they did. For example, now that Obamacare will be repealed, they realise that they are going to lose their healthcare, but still, they voted for Donald Trump. I think this was not a logical decision but a “gut reaction” to all the changes that were happening around them: people are usually scared of many changes happening at the same time, even if those are positive changes.

R.: Besides, you have to realise the way the US electoral system works. The fact that the President was elected doesn’t at all mean that the majority of the population has voted for him.

The United States Electoral College is the mechanism established by the United States Constitution for the indirect election of the President of the United States and Vice President of the United States. Citizens of the United States vote in each state at a general election to choose a slate of "electors" pledged to vote for a party's candidate.

It seemed more important to follow international news. I didn’t have the sense that anything bad can happen while I’m not checking the news.

What do you think you can do for your country given the present circumstances?

Being a UWC student means being an active contributor to world peace and sustainability it means becoming a change-maker or doing the utmost best to come a step closer to that.

C.: Environment is a major topic for me, I think I can endorse NGOs and do whatever is required for preserving nature. An important part of doing something meaningful will be continuing our education: we will get qualifications to back up what we are saying as well as know better how the system works. My thought is to start small: you have much more power in your local community and your local city hall than you will ever have in national elections or on federal level. I would show my local community how sustainability works. The example of Freiburg, which is an incredibly sustainable town in every way; but what they did was through starting small changes, then it expanded and everyone realised that it works and it’s good.

Another important thing about UWC is that it gives its student the privilege of “having a face on the news.” Except for it’s not just “a face”: here they are no longer campaigning for random people or an abstract concept, it’s about their friends.

I.: I would say that generally being nice and doing whatever you can is the key. There’s a lot of mobilisation going on right now: there was the Women’s March for example, or the Planned Parenthood has received a record donation of 1 mln USD. If this keeps going, next time we will manage to elect people who actually care and want to do good things (*Senate elections will happen in November 2018, halfway through the President’s time in office). Basically, I think we just need to try and be decent people, and next time this might work in the right way.

R.: I don’t think that UWC is a practical way to address issues in my own community: our students are specially selected – open-minded, willing to change the world and ready to live in a small community. What I am sure about is that now I know what it is that I want to become and the result I want to achieve. I don’t think this model can be implemented in other communities; my school alone is too large to be implementing environmental works like we do here. But coming to UWCD gave the dream of where I want to get us to. So even though I don’t completely know how I am going to achieve that, now I know what it is I want to achieve, and that is solely due to whatever I have experienced here. I know that I am now more open-minded than I used to be and that I have had more experiences here, and when I go back home I know how I can change all those people back there, who, just like me, are used to thinking about themselves as the most liberal, tolerant, open.

The bottom line for these young people is: you can have different viewpoints – you can be optimistic or pessimistic about anything, but as long as the only thing you do about them is talking and thinking without actually doing anything, then of course nothing will change.