Rudyard Kipling once wrote that, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” What an incredible statement, he’s making. If you think about it, the things that we hold nearest to our hearts are the stories that maybe a parent or grandparent told us, a story that we’ve heard that really touched us, and for most of us, our own unique stories are all at the center of who we are. Stories are the unique connectors, the webs that are woven in order to unite people with each other, stories are often the building blocks of citizenship. Recently, I was able to experience a night full of exchanged stories, a kind of scattered dinner, and the building of friendships amongst people that truly surprised me.
At this dinner were five of us, each very unique. Of our group were myself, Rachael, Brent and his friend Tan, and our generous host Jennifer. I set up the dinner with Jennifer as I met her earlier this summer when we worked on the Ceremony for New Citizens together. Jennifer is the perfect example of what it means to be a citizen in a community and I thought she would be an excellent match for each of our group members’ interests. She graduated from college with a degree in Political Science, and her husband teaches Political Science here at Western. She is a devoted mother, and citizen as she does very intensive work with the refugee population here in Bowling Green. She does everything from organizing an intercultural soccer team for refugee children, to helping refugees adjust to daily life by attending driver’s tests, court cases, and doctor’s appointments with different families. If I were to model my life of service after one person, it would certainly be Jennifer. I have been getting to know Rachael and Brent more and more through our class, but it was eye-opening to learn more and more about them as we sat together to eat dinner. I was so happy that Brent brought along his friend Tan, as he was a new face for me to meet and his perspective was refreshing in our conversation. He has incredible talents and a spirit that is infectious. Over the course of this night, I learned how much Rachael and I are alike, from our love of feminism and literature to our desires to start a girl band, (which we are totally going to do.) I think I may have thrown Brent and Rachael way off because I don’t really like pie, but they accept me for my ice-cream loving self and that’s a form of citizenship in itself. Rachael is incredibly insightful and kind and is exactly the kind of person that I need and want in my life. If anything, this class brought me a friend that is a girl after my own heart. Brent is also incredibly awesome, like I’m pretty sure that Brent is one of the coolest people that I know; he’s compassionate, incredibly aware, and full of surprises. I feel like both Rachael and Brent would like to be described as students and citizens who are hungry for change and development in our world. Both of their hearts and minds are on fire to make a difference, which is what makes our friendships work together so well.
The bulk of our conversations, aside from the required questions and introductions was about Jennifer’s work with refugees and about each of our unique desires and ideas about the world. It was actually a very interesting dynamic that our group had as we bounced off each other’s ideas and built upon what each of us felt. It was a conversation that I have been missing in my daily life. I sometimes struggle with finding people to truly discuss and learn from, and this conversation certainly filled a void that I was missing. We briefly touched on the election, which actually wasn’t terrible to do. All of us were pretty much on the same side as who we thought should be elected, but we spent a small bit of the time discussing the other side and why each of us thought people voted the way they did. I think this is crucial; if we don’t take time to truly discuss the side that we aren’t on, then how do we find the common ground when trying to make progress for what we believe in? It was refreshing to take a moment and recognize the differences in the world as we were seeking the similarities amongst our group. We also discussed with Brent’s friend Tan what it was like in Vietnam and how culture was different from what he was experiencing here in America. His perspective was beautiful to try to understand. Global citizenship came up frequently in our discussion, as everyone at our table, aside from myself, had studied abroad. As I have yet to experience that form of citizenship, I truly learned complex ideas from the different abroad experiences that each of my friends have had. As I find may similarities amongst each of us at the table, we are all incredibly diverse as to how we want to change our world. The stories we each shared opened my eyes to the possibility and hope for our world, and people like Brent, Rachael, Jennifer, and Tan are the ones that will be forces against the nature of where we are today. I think the biggest thing I learned was just how important it is to discuss, not necessarily debate, but just interact with one another. I think we get way too caught up in making convenient exchanges with people that we forget to take the time to have thoughtful conversations. As one topic progressed in our conversations, diverse thoughts and beautiful ideas surfaced, allowing each of us to develop our own thoughts in concordance with each other. It was like building our own web of connection through the expression of our thoughts. I think this is exactly what our class was trying to teach us: how to live well together, how to solve problems, how do we change and evolve? We connect. That’s the most important thing. Connection leads to empathy, empathy leads to helping hands, helping hands lead to a little more love, and that love and acceptance of our fellow man, leads to one of the most beautiful things imaginable: citizenship.
Citizen and Self has been an eye-opening class for me, even when I have been scattered and not on top of things, it’s made me truly analyze what it means to be a member of a group and what it takes to make a difference. That’s the citizenship part, the part that has completely changed my idea of what being a citizen is, the part that has revolutionized my own plans for my life. The other part of this class is discovering myself in ways that I hadn’t thought of discovering. I think that we, as humans, are constantly on the mission of discovering ourselves. As I discover ideas and thoughts about our world and the people that connect it, I also discover something new about myself everyday. There are many things that I long to discover, things like how it is that one action can influence so many things and how different people seem to always inspire something. I find the most interesting things to discover are the abstract things that constantly change from day to day. I think that conversations like the one that I had around our table are the ones where you can simultaneously discover new things and recover old things that you knew and learn how to apply them. Taking the idea of talking around a table; something that we’ve all done, at least, once in our lives, and then combining it with the newness of strangers turned inspirers, is how I’ve found connection amongst myself and this new community that I’m a part of. I hope to continue to discover the ways that I, as an artist, student, citizen, and friend can grow. I realize that I have so many things to learn, I am just beginning to uncover them, and the best way I know of to learn is by feeding off of others and one of the most amazing things that I long to discover is how I can be an active voice in a group of like-minded, but also diverse individuals. This project helped me to discover a little bit more of that, and so has this class.