A funny thing happened to me this morning at my exchange student orientation.
I saw exactly how I wanted to the world to be.
My exchange school, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, arranged to have all of this semester’s exchange students gather in one lecture hall and lay out a couple ground rules and expectations. For three hours, nearly 500 young adults from all around the world sat and listened to school officials explain international travel guidelines and why one shouldn’t overload the outlets in the dorms. Most of the presented information was entirely common sense and more than one student found their iPhone more entertaining (but, I did like the shout-out to American students, that no, dialing 9-1-1 here won’t do anything in an emergency). Of course the university needed to go over all of this. You know, to be able to say that they did tell us that fires are dangerous in the dorms. We weren’t very entertained.
So here we were: trying to pay attention, planning our weekends in our heads, whispering with friends or nursing hangovers. A very typical college lecture hall scene. But then the officials started telling us who we were, and where we came from.
The speaker began asking where the Scottish were, where the Swedes were, where the Chinese were. Hands were raised as the words “Germany,” “Norway,” “United States,” “Canada” and “Finland” were spoken. As our neighbors’ nationalities were displayed, entire bodies turned in their chairs. People took a genuine interest in this kinda thing. Smiles were shared and conversations began. Pie charts filled the projection screen and our eyes were instantly glued to the new information in front of us. They showed how most of the young adults in the room were Swedish (about 50 or more), and how the American and German populations weren’t far behind (tying at about 36 from each country). Everyone was fascinated with where everyone was from, and there was a new energy in the room.
The iPhones were put down, the weekend’s plans were put on hold, and people stopped slouching in their seats. They were actually leaning forward to see the screen, or to meet their neighbors. Everyone was completely fascinated with one another. I was smiling and stunned.
It did not matter what someone’s sex, race or religion was. Politics were ignored. Assumptions were put aside. This was a room full of young people, tomorrow’s generation, taking an organic and simple interest in one another. Everyone was a friend just because you were there and you were a person.
I’ve learned about globalization for the past three years at San Diego State and believe me, Twitter and Facebook have very little on this kind of experience. I try to keep up with the news as much as I can, and maybe it’s the way the American media handles stories and issues, but I think there’s a lot of wrong out there. A pessimist I am not, but when you read about adults and children getting massacred in Norway mere weeks ago, you know everything in the world isn’t all smiles and sunshine and bunnies in fields of bright, happy flowers. Some things are seriously messed up. I met Norwegians today and wondered if they were okay.
There are wars. There is poverty. There is famine. There is corruption and stealing and scandals and lies and affairs and egos and power where it shouldn’t be. There is the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, still in absolute ruin, six years later. There are memories of planes hitting skyscrapers in New York. There are memories of subway bombings in Madrid and London. There are people all around the world who are struggling and dying every day, for reasons entirely unfair.
I know some people may read this and say, “Well, isn’t this the wide-eyed youngster who just doesn’t understand how the world works. Life is mean and then you die, kid,” (or, “Suck it up, you damned hippie.”) But I’m not okay with that. I’m not going to passively roll over and accept things as they are. Going limp and doing nothing when you hear awful stories is, in a way, an awful act in itself. I’ve always hated it when people say there’s nothing they can do to change something. About them I’d say, they just don’t understand how the world works.
When Osama bin Laden was killed, I was particularly interested in the articles about my generation. The articles about young adults like me who were 11 years old in 2001 – who are growing up in a world unlike any other that’s been seen before. We’ve grown up with war, hate, violence, disconnect and miscommunication. I lock my door at night, when my roommate from India does not. The articles were saying that as a result, my generation is more politically active and more attentive to world affairs than ever before. We actually give a shit. I’m sorry, but we’re not all a bunch of self-centered, materialistic idiots. We’re so much more than that, and some people who commented on these articles seemed to disagree.
And yet here is a room of 500 young adults from all over the world, on an island in the middle of Southeast Asia. For a brief few moments, the outside world didn’t exist. We were the world. And our affiliations, positive and negative, didn’t matter. No one cared if someone was conservative or liberal, rich or poor, gay or straight or anything else that tears people apart and creates lifelong barriers. Prejudices were out the window. We were just happy to be there, smile, and shake someone’s hand. People were good to one another, and it was beyond good to see.
The last official to speak used a few words from an old John F. Kennedy speech you might be familiar with. Twisting it for the occasion, he said, “Ask not what the university can do for you, but ask what you can do for the university.”
Ask not what the world can do for you, but ask what you can do for the world.
This isn’t about America or politics, and it’s not about me studying abroad. It’s not even about a younger generation who’ll inherit the world one day. And no, this isn’t about JFK, but thanks for trying.
This is about people. It’s about doing good by your fellow man, woman and child. It’s about trying hard to be a better person, day by day or minute by minute, whatever you can muster. It’s about the small stuff and the big stuff, about being mindful about doing a little more than the bare minimum. Prejudices out the window, taking an interest in others, smiling and shaking hands. There are other people involved, you know. The world could use a little more good.
Today, I saw a side of people I’d like to see again. Actually, I’d like to live in a world with that side of people.
And *thisiswhyIAOK.1 Comment »