America’s Softer Side

Since February I have been hosting an international scholar in my classroom. We have hit it off quite well for numerous reasons — one being that I have visited Indonesia and know about her home, plus I have visited some of the countries she’s visited and I am as curious about her as she is about me. Periodically, we have had a chance to discuss likenesses and differences among people and countries. I have gotten a chance to reflect on the years I spent living and working in Japan. The generosity that was extended to me as I journeyed there will never be forgotten. Being included in the community and finding buddies was such an unexpected gift, because I had been told I would be respected but not necessarily accepted within the group.
Today we discussed her expectations versus the reality of visiting this country. She feels America is often portrayed as a land of individuals who go about doing their own thing at all cost. She has been happy to experience the personal side. Having wondered about American family values, since much of what the world learns about it is through movies and news media, she was surprised that we are much more approachable. Even books, which are designed to prepare visitors for this country, often fail to portray us as a diverse population of complex individuals — real people. The love we share among family and friends, which is such a vital part of Indonesian culture, has been a source of support to this visitor, who has become part of our extended family.
Among her many observations, one of the experiences she treasures the most, is our effort to help all children. One of the initiatives she is hoping to share back home is our inclusion of special needs children within our schools. In Indonesia, children with special needs automatically go to a separate school. When it is time for them to interact with other people they are often shy and reluctant to mix. Having been involved with some of our children, she has seen that accommodating those who might tax us more does not necessarily mean that we only give. One of my greatest gifts this year has been a few children who share their smiles and their love in such open ways, that I couldn’t possibly feel out of sorts having encountered them during that day. They have given more to me than I could ever have given to them. That is a snapshot she wants to share that goes beyond personal possessions and TV drama. Tears welled up as she talked about this softer side of America, which she hadn’t expected to find.
Mad love to all of you, who reach out to help others, yet rarely receive acknowledgement for your efforts. The world is a much grander place because of you. You are that special ingredient that the visitor was discussing, and I am so proud that so many of you are part of the sisterhood! Jakki, For The Diversity Committee

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