Even though it’s been more than 6 years since I lived in Michigan, USA, it still affects me very much.
I had reason to think about it today, when I read a blog post by Emma Stenström, former Dean of Undergraduate Studies at my university, and also a fabulous teacher in management. During her time as Dean, she has been the staunch supporter for student rights, the natural person to turn to when something was not right with the education, and it is a great pity to see her leave that post.
Coming back to the topic at hand, she blogs about her son’s high school exchange in a very conservative part of Kansas. About being forced to attend church, about how all democrats should be shot, about guns and heaps of other things unthinkable to me as a liberal.
I was very lucky in that while I certainly met very many conservatives like that during my stay in the US, my community was not that way to the core. While my host family certainly are much more conservative and “tradition-minded” than my family at home, they did (and do) love me. I love them. Even when we disagreed on a great many subjects, I never felt repressed or forced to change my views.
I also had many friends who were very religious, pro-life and several who didn’t believe in the evolution.
While it is difficult for me to understand how they think that, we had no problem being friends. They respected my views (that I didn’t agree with them!) and I respect theirs.
A great help in keeping me anchored was my AP US History teacher, Mr. Lopo. While any conservative American would find him a liberal nutjob, (and truth be told, he WAS a bit weird) he was also someone who forced his students to think and defend their opinions. Who wasn’t afraid to speak of worrying movements in the US then and now. Someone who didn’t put up with bullshit. Someone who wouldn’t keep silent. I think if I hadn’t gotten his perspective on the US to balance the other ones out, I would’ve gone crazy. He kept me rooted in the fact that my beliefs weren’t crazy, they were rational and good.
And he also convinced me about the madness of Americans, but in a way that makes it possible for me to understand American politics much better. He reminded me that even though there are so many nutters in the US, there are some fantastic thinkers too.
That means I can look back on my stay in the US and say it was only benefical for me. I learned about other people’s views and in turn, refined and honed my own.