Hailey Gunningham (USA, LPC 10-12)
Fear; one of the most pervasive emotions I felt before moving a world away, leaving an insular, conservative community for the first time, or at least the first time where I knew I could escape it’s trappings for three glorious months. Despite being ecstatic about moving to a place many people in my town couldn’t find on a map, there is a certain safety in small town America that there isn’t in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is big, and it’s an amalgam of cultures that are still connected to their homeland and don’t want to “integrate” into the local culture. For all of its touted diversity, America can be surprisingly homogenous when you reach the remote corners that appear all over the map. Thankfully, my family was able to travel in my childhood, but my home was a place of mostly white Americans, along with various Eastern Europe immigrants. But the fear wasn’t that I would be overcome by culture shock, or that I would be unable to adjust to my new surroundings.
It was more of a worry that my upbringing and my background would pigeonhole me when I was thrown in this gigantic patchwork that the United World Colleges appeared to be. Would I be assumed to be a gun-clinging cowboy, or an ignorant, presumptuous foreigner? Would I be shunned or sought ought because of the title “American”? But when all these thoughts were racing through my mind in those inevitably sleepless nights, I realized that the fear was really that no one would be genuine enough to share their views and their culture, unedited, unscripted, no pretenses about how great it always is; this is what I was afraid of, telling everyone how much I disliked my home country. Why else would I leave the country with some of the best universities in it for an extra year of High School?
So that was it; a fear of ingenuity in people and that they would expect that same façade from me. I just reminded myself once again of the wondrous diversity that was unfolding on that medium for socialization they call Facebook. I received birthday wishes in multiple languages from several time zones; people already had jokes and ideas about what they would do when the summer was over and we faced the drudgery we knew awaited us in this crazy adventure. Everyone was of a different religion and political affiliation; it was the picture of diversity that is recalled in the image of the American “melting pot’ that I had never seen, only it was on the wrong continent. I have yet to meet these people in person, but I know already that they will help create this mélange of identities that I have sought in Ferndale, Washington.
-United World Colleges Student Magazine-