To sit down and write a list of everything I’ve learned in my few short months at Georgetown would take longer than my flight took to get here. But for the sake of reflection, here’s a sampling.
Things that seem like common knowledge to the average Georgetown student, I had to learn first-hand. Apparently, the card swipe slot on the top panel of the washing machines is redundant. And quarters cannot be jammed anywhere into the machine either. In the dining hall, it is not customary simply to finish a meal and leave an assorted collection of plates and cutlery on the table. It is also unacceptable to ask, in response to mention of the word “Wisey’s,”Where is that?” More important, however, is the sum of these small lessons.
The larger message is the need to tolerate cultural differences. Though this message is frequently propagated, it can be vague, condescending and a misdirected form of good intentions. It implies simply holding one’s nose and quickly walking past someone on the street if they happen to be poorer, less educated or more disadvantaged than you.
y ignorance of trivial details of everyday life inside the Georgetown bubble can be a wider reference point. It indicates the need to have empathy for those in our community who interact with the world from a less privileged position. Every society has its own assumed set of knowledge that can be difficult to learn but is essential for functional participation within that group. I keep thinking about the fact that my ignorance significantly altered the way that I approached places and people in my first days here. The same difficulties would afflict a non-English-speaking immigrant, for example, adjusting to a new life in the United States.
Students and white collar workers encounter people every day who have been socially or economically excluded from the chance to go to college. When we all part our separate ways in a few weeks, for summer break or permanently, we should remember that a large number of the people in our communities have not had the luxury of such an intensive period of higher learning. For better or worse, a great many people do not have the aptitude for extensive academic study. And unfortunately many people who actually do possess such a capacity are excluded from chances at a college education by economic burdens.
The remedy to this problem is manageable in theory, but difficult to achieve in practice. As most readers are already well aware, expanding educational opportunities on the basis of merit is seldom a simple process to implement or reform.
In the face of such large and esoteric problems as economic inequality, we can all make an individual effort to address these difficulties through our own personal interactions. Displaying respect for the dignity of every person that we encounter would be a noble aim as we move into the summer. Sure, as college graduates, we might never be bagging our own groceries. (Although given the cost-cutting measures at stores such as CVS, it seems to be only a matter of time before every register is a self-checkout.) Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that career success is not a prerequisite for human dignity nor an insurance against some future hardship.
By virtue of having received a university education, we at Georgetown share a set of values and assumptions that we have acquired during the learning process. Our collective challenge is to apply these ways of thinking to the broader community while acknowledging that not everyone has been so lucky.
Andrew Swanson is a student at the University of Sydney and is studying at Georgetown for the semester. The Land Up Over appears every other Friday.
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