I went down to the dining room for dinner. The aroma of freshly prepared sausage, rolls, baked potatoes, and mixed vegetables filled the air. A typical family dinner. However, I enjoyed this meal, not at home, but with my German host family. “Komm,” said my host mother, “Abendessen ist fertig.” In English, this means, “Come. Dinner is finished”, meaning ready to eat. I gladly took my seat to enjoy the meal with the Van Heusdens. My exchange partner, Anabel, is the oldest of three siblings. Her brothers are Pieter and Vincent. Pieter helped make the sausage, or Wurst, while Anabel and her mother prepared the broccoli, carrots, and other vegetables. During my three weeks in the Van Heusden home, I enjoyed many meals like this. However, I not only learned about German traditions and customs. I learned more about people in general.
Not only did I live with my host family, but I accompanied them to visit their relatives in Belgium, and I went to school with Anabel.
I lived their life. Another girl from the exchange and I prepared a presentation on American Nursery Rhymes, which we later presented to German schoolchildren in the fourth and fifth grade. The children enjoyed learning the rhymes and recognized many of them, since there are German equivalents. However, the most enlightening part of my trip came after we presented.
“Does anyone have any questions for us?” I asked. Some of the children’s questions surprised us.
“Do you like shopping?”
“What do you do for fun?”
“What is school like in America?”
“Do you go to New York City a lot?”
These were just a few of their questions, and I struggled to answer them. I looked to my partner, but she did not know how to reply either. “It’s kind of the same as here,” I answered weakly. I really could not see any drastic differences between my life in America and my life in Germany. The German school system differs a bit given the hour gaps – and sometimes longer – between classes. Such gaps are called pauses in the school day, during which many students eat lunch or enjoy other small snacks. However, this does not affect the material taught. Students in Germany still learn math, science, English, German, and other subjects, such as art and music, as we do in the United States.
Beyond superficial differences, such as food, fashion, and language, I do not see many differences between Germans and Americans. In Germany, I spent time with friends, as I do here in the United States. Teenagers had homework to do, or they would fail. Children dreamed of careers. Parents went off to work for the day. Some teenagers held part time jobs. Most students worked hard in school to prepare for their future.
Coming back from my trip, I started to think, maybe people are more alike than different. Overall, we all like to be happy, and we all know people we care about. We all like to have a good time with others. Of course, everyone is not exactly alike. If this were the case, the world would be dull. Different cultures and traditions create unique individuals, but there are many similarities among people from all backgrounds. If people all over the world tried to understand each other’s differences and customs, there is a possibility we would discover more similarities than differences among us.
People and their cultures are like a quilt. Each fabric square represents a unique culture, but all the squares are stitched together to form an exquisite quilt. People from all over the world create this ensemble. While cultures all have their own customs in regard to food, music, and celebrations, a mutual interest keeps us all connected. Many of us share common goals, hobbies, and values that we are not aware of until we examine them.
The fabric of individual cutlure gives variety to the world. Different textures and shapes beautify the world. The thread of life connects the “squares” and creates a dynamic world. Some people like to see our differences more than our similarities because of where we grew up and the customs we were brought up with. Of course, differences maintain diversity. However, if we discover common interests, we could all get along better because we will better understand each other.
Therefore, instead of ripping the threads of the world apart, we should try to preserve the beautiful quilt we live on. We should embrace our differences and make connections to help us all understand each other. Also, let us look to add new fabric squares to our world quilt to make it more beautiful and more representative of the world’s variety. Each “square” provides more stories and tales to add to an intricate quilt. Learning more about each other will help us discover what we share with others and help us form bonds.
If it were not for my experiences abroad, I do not know if I would have fully understood the importance of recognizing the similarities between individual people and groups of people. We all have our own stories, experiences, cultures, families, and friends to contribute to this world. We could relate to one another if we just took the time to see the ways we are already connected.
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