By Kameliya Tsanova, Bulgaria
Back in May, when we were discussing our pre-arrival preparations, Bruce Laurie suggested we kept a diary to document each experience we have, promising us it would last for a lifetime. Having already been half way through this amazing adventure, I should give him the credit of exceeding my highest expectations with the incredible program of ITD for SUSI Secondary Educators.
As a person coming from Eastern Europe, the US initially hit me with scale: everything here is big, so spacious that I can breathe freely, not feeling squeezed or pressured. Roads are broad enough for eighteen-wheelers, vans, and huge pickup trucks; each store is the size of my home city’s street market; there’s plenty of space in parks and streets for biking, hiking or just browsing around town. Nonetheless, it is not the environment or the infrastructure that I would define as my most valuable experience – it is the people I am meeting here and the interaction with American mindset which is as broad as can be.
The patchwork has always been a representative symbol of American society for me, but I had to come to the States to really grasp the essence of it. Defining it simply as cultural diversity would never suffice. What used to be referred to as The Melting Pot has now turned into a healthy salad (Thank you Katie, for this wonderful metaphor!) where one does not need to lose favor to be part of. In the US each person can be whatever they want and feel appreciated for their deeds. Never had I ever imagined university professors being in service of their students, and happy to do so. (A big thanks to the whole ITD team – your speckless professionalism is out of this world!)
Activism and awareness of civic duties are taught at school, which results in forming open-minded communities working for what they believe is right. Here in Amherst I saw a protesting rally against bearing arms, but also yard slogans are very common: people are not afraid to declare their viewpoint and support a cause or a civil movement, even if their neighbor is in favor of the opposite. Despite all that, they manage to live in peace respecting one another.
This sense of belonging to a community lies probably at the core of another American social phenomenon: voluntarism. When we went to help Bob at Not Bread Alone Center for Community Service I was amazed and inspired by all these people who volunteer there every day because they genuinely care about the underprivileged and really try to make a difference. The same vibe can be felt everywhere, which is mind-blowing. We visited The Center for Racial Justice and The Center for New Americans where activism and voluntarism intertwine to shape what I identify of a true contemporary American spirit: actively engaged in social and political life, free to choose a right cause, soaring as high as the sky.
But most importantly, people are friendly and open even to strangers. Communicating with people here is so natural that even when I am being serviced at a store it always adds a pinch of personal touch to hear: “Have a good one!” with a smile. Well, this pretty much summarizes my experience so far: I am having a great one, thank you!