Cultural Experience

One of my favorite things so far is being able to meet people from different countries and cultures from all over the world—not just Germany. I’ve met people from Hong Kong, Australia, Maryland, Massachusetts, California, Jamaica, The Dominican Republic, Panama, and probably others (I wasn’t able to catch all the names). The people from California and Australia talk about how cold Germany seems while I’m thinking how it would be much colder in most of the Midwest right now. The students from Hong Kong (many of which, interestingly, are studying in Queensland right now) very emphatically informed the entire group multiple times that Hong Kong is not in China or Japan. The man from the Dominican Republic (to whom I dedicated an entire post, for various reasons) was shocked to find that most of us had heard of his country. I loved listening to the various accents and languages and words, and eagerly answered questions about my home and culture when I saw others were as curious as I was. I hadn’t even begun the educational portion yet and already I was learning so much.

At our New Year’s Dinner, though, I was stuck at a table with various students from America and one Australian who didn’t say much. For the past two days I had enjoyed the feeling of being on equal footing with most of the students there—equally lost, equally stupid, equally fascinated, equally curious. But at this table I found myself back in the same old boat. It was like I’d never left the States. Here, once again, my limited experiences in certain areas prevented them from acknowledging my expertise in others. My input was rendered invalid because I disagreed with popular people. My preferences were ignored because they were unconventional.

After a while I shut up and sat quietly seething at the table listening to the Americans banter around me. I had come on this trip partly, if not mostly, to escape my stupid self-centered individualistic non-inclusive fast-paced culture, and yet here I was smack in the middle of Berlin surrounded by fucking American privileged middle-class white college kids. Just like back home.

When I’d talked to my Australian friend about ethics and gun control we exchanged ideas and opinions on equal footing and listened to each other’s experiences and input. When I’d talked to Erik (see other post) about my summer camp experience he listened in fascination and applauded my methods, asked me a lot of questions, and supplemented my narrative with his experiences and input. The one time he mocked my method I calmly explained my thought process, and he went so far as to apologize for passing judgement too quickly, and shook my hand. But when I asked Grace to be respectful of the food she refused to eat, she and the other Americans acted like I was pushing it after the second time. The three girls from my school act so petty sometimes, but I feel like I can’t say anything testy to the people who were nice enough to give me a ride.

People are actually judging me because I don’t have much money. I’ve experienced subtle prejudices against lower-income folks in general but so far I’d been lucky enough to avoid direct jabs against my personal financial situation. These people were mocking me for not bringing money I didn’t have, and making me feel stupid for getting cheated out of almost half my Euros at the conversion kiosk at the airport. Most days I didn’t have enough money to buy water or go to the bathroom and had to ask people for loose change or favors, which made me feel horrible about myself and my situation.

I miss tutoring International students. I miss their open curiosity and eagerness to learn, and I miss talking to them in that nonjudgmental environment. I learned a lot about language from them and them from me, and neither of us made fun of each other for cultural differences or previous experiences. Honestly, sometimes I feel more similar to non-Americans than to Americans.