Fitting In—And Standing Out—A Million Miles from Home
I’m an Indonesian exchange student currently residing in Idaho. I never got a chance to actually choose where I was going to live, so Idaho is a (nice?) surprise. It has a beautiful view, friendly people, mountains, lakes, and an integrated community.
After a month of settling in and going to a local public school, I noticed the same issue keeps coming up: divisiveness. Not just because most of the people in Idaho are majority white and/or Christians, but also because putting people in boxes and labeling them seems to be a common practice here and all over the world. This practice of segregating people in everyday life is driving us further away from each other; not to mention, it prevents the opportunity to learn more about people different than ourselves.
This divisiveness that we see in everyday life will turn into more serious issues—racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, or even homophobia—simply because we forget that, despite our differences, we’re all people. Sometimes it’s not even noticeable; it happens with sentences that seem lighthearted, but come laced with prejudices. We all know these unfair stereotypes: That Mormons are goody two-shoes, that black people are good at sports, that Asians are smart. While not all of these prejudices are inherently bad, I believe they will eventually lead to the failure of recognizing the humanity in each human. This divisiveness can cause people to do all sorts of horrible acts, from mass shootings to genocide, simply because we fail to recognize ourselves in other people.
Even worse? It can start in elementary school, or even earlier. While it might not be as obvious as people shoving each other in hallways, it can and will start with harsh judgements and unfair stereotypes.
However, hope does exist. I’ve seen it.
As a hijabi—the first one ever in school—I found myself feeling uneasy at first. Not only because Idaho is a red state and all these images of racism linger in the back of my mind, but I noticed just how insecure people are about themselves. I don’t think it has anything to do with being different; it’s just the overall pressure of being in high school with so many people doing their own thing. Not to mention, all of the expectations (AP, sports, parties, clubs, arts—I can go on forever) that people struggle to meet.
Bottom line? Whether it’s by joy or tragedy, acknowledging that we all share the same feelings as human beings is the best place to start with understanding people. My experience with being out of place in Idaho has taught me many things—but most importantly, it’s taught me the realization that though we are different, we face and feel the same things.
By Ratu Arweys, 16