Diversity? Take a Closer Look

I’ve lived in quite a few places—I was born in LA, went to elementary school in the Jewish suburbs of New Jersey, went to middle school in the heart of Seoul, Korea, then came to the town of Andover, MA, to live on a tiny, insular campus filled with about 1000 “diverse” students. Having lived in largely homogeneous areas and having been brought up with strong traditional values, I tend to come across as a bit judgmental. However, I respect all people, and the following should be take as the account of my own experiences and perceptions. After spending three years at this school, I’ve found that those Americans who came here to “meet people from around the world” and “expand their horizons” have come to the wrong place. Most white kids seem to think that every kid named Jiang or Li or Zhang is exotic because he can say “ni hao ma” with a sing-song Chinese accent and eat that crappy Maruchan Ramen (which, by the way, is Japanese) with chopsticks, but he doesn’t know that Li or Jiang is from Beverly, Massachusetts, and has lived there all his life. Zhang may seem to be from a far-off land called Peking Garden just because he plays the song “Got Rice.” But the next song on his iTunes playlist is by some musically-worthless punk-rock white band that thinks they’re cool just by playing three or four power chords on their electric guitars and screaming emo lyrics that are supposed to sound deep but are really from the back of a cereal box. The problem is that most Americans are ignorant. I know I am generalizing, and there are always exceptions. But even at such an esteemed educational institution as this, I have seen countless examples of pure, shameless, unadulterated ignorance. I am a U.S. citizen, but I can at least recognize my lack of knowledge and try to learn as much as I can. From what I’ve seen and heard in this country, white Americans have never concerned themselves with anyone colored or outside of a ten kilometer radius from their home. Or when they do, they drive eleven kilometers and visit Golden Chopstick for a trip to the Orient. They think everyone from Asia speaks Asian. For instance, when I tell people that I am from Korea, they seem to think Korea is some province or Buddhist temple in China or Japan. If they are oh-so-enlightened enough to know that it is a separate country, they show off their knowledge of the Far East and ask, “Are you from North or South Korea?” But ask an average American about a place where their country has never fought a war, and you’re likely to come up empty. When a large chunk of the students here are day students and the rest are from New England, there’s not that much space left for kids from the rest of the country, let alone true international students. It often feels like Andover only accepts a few token students from abroad each year. And even the international kids are whitewashed, like our hypothetical little Chinese friend above.