February is a challenge.
The month is a grand oxymoron. It’s a time that’s simultaneously both bleak and bright.
February, while challenging, is my favorite time of the year.
Amidst this contradictory season lies reflection, refocus, and yet another alliteration you probably could have done without.
When I mention I’m from Saint Louis, Missouri, I’m generally greeted with one of two responses:
“Where Nelly is from, right?” [the dude has quite the fan base in the UK. ]
“Oh….so like… what do you think about Ferguson?” […or various hybrids of the sort.]
The latter is rare-a bit heavy for small talk- but present nonetheless. There’s much to be taken from the conversations I’ve had regarding my hometown while living in England.
Rest assure, this is not another white, middle class rant about race. There are enough dim-wits like this chick going viral and frankly, we don’t need any more Tomi Lahren’s in the world. Acknowledging where white privilege exists in society is not synonymous with condoning white privilege, and I fully recognize where I lack some of the experience necessary to comprehend certain matters in a way that extends beyond empathy.
That being said, in a matter of a few short weeks abroad, I quickly came to realize how very differently media outlets in the UK covered the events that unfolded in Ferguson, in comparison to media outlets in the USA. Having worked directly with children and families in the Ferguson community-and closely related, surrounding at risk areas- prior to the death of Michael Brown, I’m equally critical of both national, and international news coverage of Saint Louis and the beginnings of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. If you closely examine the news coverage of the events that unfolded in Ferguson and thereafter, you’ll find it wasn’t until the death of Freddie Gray and the 2015 Baltimore riots [nearly a year after Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown ] that many media outlets began to draw a parallel between the violent protests occurring and socio-economic divide. But, I digress….
Fast forward to living England; several seminar discussions and numerous conversations later, I’ve absorbed a number of opinions and feedback. I will not generalize a majority based the opinions of a few….after all, if all of America was just like me……well, I’m not sure what my country would look like. It would likely include one too many jokes told at inappropriate times. Needless to say, generalizations-while inevitable- are weak in the grand scheme of things.
As the Autumn semester came to a close, I had the opportunity to reflect on some of these conversations I’ve had surrounding the topic. Media and Communications courses at Sussex boast a rather ambiguous final examination process. Both modules I enrolled in during the Autumn Term called for final research papers worth 70 percent of the mark. In November, I was presented with a series of prompts.
“Make it personal,” a professor challenged us. “I want academia, but I also want some individuality. “
So, I wrote about Ferguson.
It was a hit or miss decision, really. I established the events as an underlying theme throughout the essay, sharing stories from my experiences in the community, journals excerpts and momentos taken from the evening the verdict was announced, etc. while addressing the prompt at hand. I knew the streets that made international headlines, in a different light than those who lived there, of course, but in a personal way nonetheless.
I’m not one for posting feedback or grades online. This is my first and last exception, solely because writing, revising, and submitting this deeply personal work served as a vivid reminder of the unique opportunity living abroad presents to connect cross-culturally.
All too often, as students abroad, we forget. Caught up in social media posts, food, drinks, hot accents (seriously, still so hot ), and tourist attractions, it’s easy to lose sight of the important things. My hands certainly aren’t clean- I don’t always practice what I preach. Amidst what could be considered a rather self indulgent experience, we often forget. We forget that we hold the potential to communicate what media sources simply cannot; it’s a powerful position to connect, relate, and promote greater understanding in an inherently personal light. Perhaps on a small scale, but with a vigilance that cannot, and should not, be ignored. A person can tell you far more than a headline can. Whether it be with through close friendships, a conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop, or with a professor via an academic essay, the opportunity living abroad presents to connect cross culturally goes untapped.
Tap into the fight.
Challenge other’s opinion. Let them challenge yours as well.
Speaking with intent is a craft. Learning when it’s worthwhile to engage in dialogue, and recognizing when it’s better to pull back, is a slippery slope….. one that, admittedly, I’m still maneuvering myself.
But this much I know for certain: honest, unbiased perspective is something we can all take part in shaping.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.
Anyone who is an Instagram user ought to already know this. So many filtered pictures of flowers……so…..many…..
Personally, I’m rather keen for this holiday season [shock!]. Valentine’s Day has taken on a number of meanings in my short 21 years.
As a child, my Dad regularly took me on “Daddy-Daughter Date Nights.” Contrary to how it may appear, this wasn’t always a means of spoiling his little girl. I still recall a particular Valentine’s Day in grade school, where he took me to volunteer at a local children’s crisis nursery. My parents showed me what love and empathy should look like long before falling in love was ever in my realm of thought….for this, I am endlessly grateful.
As a teenager, I once had the great fortunate of reliving these childhood Daddy-Daughter Date nights, during a brief rebellious phase where my father refused to give in to my over dramatic effort to spend the holiday with an older guy from my math class [ he was repeating the course for the second time, having failed it the first ]. My dad took me out to dinner. He also took my cell phone…..for a week. #NeverForget
As a young adult, I’ve spent the holiday in a number of ways. With boyfriends, organizing service projects, with my sorority sisters, in restaurants and movie theaters alike.
Recently, I had the opportunity to walk through the infamous English department store, Harrods, during the Valentine’s Day season. Visiting the London department store was dreamy, to say the least. I’m not sure what kind of person buys a 600 quid ball point pen, but I’ll bet their writing rivals Shakespeare’s. For that price, you best be writing some serious fire.
Far more enticing, however, was the atmosphere. It was a busy Saturday afternoon, and as patrons shopped for the “perfect gift” to express their love, I couldn’t help but draw a cultural parallel between the holiday celebrations.
You see, when it comes to the topic of men and relationships, I’ve found that Americans and Europeans typically offer up commentary that is stark in contrast.
“Omg, are dating anyone yet?! Please tell me you found a hot guy with an accent.” –Americans
“I mean, if you find someone it would suck. Because you’re leaving in July.” -Europeans
Both sides speak with good intent.
However, neither example is an accurate depiction of my outlook on relationships.
I love watching “Eat, Pray, Love” as much as the next girl. But life, while very beautiful, doesn’t necessarily work in the way this chick flick depicts.
I didn’t move halfway across the world with the intent of finding a man. I didn’t move halfway across the world determined to be single, either. I moved across the pond to live, without any particular expectations.
And as I tick away at an application for the Peace Corps, graduate school applications (including Sussex and Brighton Uni ayyyyy), and finalizing early undergrad graduation from the University of Arkansas in December of this year, the cards are up in the air. This time next year, I might be in Africa. Or England. Or America. I could be working professionally, pursuing a graduate degree, or potentially living without running water and electricity. If the the concept of change, and the thought of moving around, dictated my ability to embrace new relationships….trust me, I’d at least adopt a cat……or a dog….maybe a fish? Something to fill the void in what would surely be a long and lonely future. On the flip side; if studying abroad was my only opportunity to have an all consuming love affair….it might be time to start working on an audition video for The Bachelor. Because if this is the case, I’m holding a ticking time bomb that may or may not explode in grasp.
If I’ve taken anything away from my first international Valentine’s Day, it’s this:
People are people.
There are many cultural differences between the country I’m from, and the country I live in currently. And while love can certainly be defined on a cultural level, more often, it’s a matter of humanity. We all want the same things, from the USA to the UK, and back. We all want to feel wanted.
You see, we are members of what I like to refer to as the culture of control. The UK and the USA have this quality in common. Don’t like your grades? Study harder. Not happy with your performance on the field? Train harder. Want a better job? Work harder.
In these aspects in life, this ideology can certainly be beneficial. But when it comes to relationships, this culture of control is our demise. We do not control who stays, and who goes. We do not decide how we feel, or who we’ll feel for. For lack of better term….it just kinda happens…..and the only thing we decide is whether to roll with it, or hit pass-go.
While Brits and Americans boast different cultures, in some ways, we’re not all that different.
Standing a head taller than most men,