Sunday, August 19, 2007

Packing Again

It seems strange to be packing again. It feels like I just got to Bulgaria, but the seminar is now over and tomorrow I will be heading to Istanbul with Marjan, who I met here in Bulgaria. We are spending one last night in Veliko Tarnovo, but the atmosphere here is totally different. There are no longer people strolling the halls, doing homework in the common room, or even trying to have conversations in broken English. Regardless, I keep imagining that I will see people in the hallway who I know have gone; I think that it will be good to leave Tarnovo. Although I had a brilliant time, this chapter seems to have ended.
One of the most interesting aspects of this seminar, for me, were the differences in culture. Most people were from Europe, but there were also people from China, Korea, India and the United States. Most people were very educated, and this led to some interesting conversations. I often had discussions with people about the culture in the United States. People would usually say that there is no culture in the United States, that we are too young of a nation. But I think that this statement is pretty ignorant. Our culture is a huge mix of various historical traditions and this mixture creates a unique culture that can be found nowhere else in the world. For the night of the nations, where every state did something cultural, we were trying to decide what we could do to portray US culture. Everything we thought of seemed to have derived from another culture. (Except for singing songs from Pocahontas, but we didn’t think that that would be appropriate) Similarly, at the international music festival two weeks ago, the representatives from the US did traditional Irish dancing. But this hodge-podge of cultural doesn’t negate our cultural being. Instead, it gives us a unique cultural perspective. We can embrace a variety of food, dance, and traditions. I know that when I go back to Boston College, I am going to go to Bulgarian Folk dance nights in Cambridge, and I think that mom will be able to drag me to her international dance class. I can enjoy sushi or Mexican food any day of the week. I can put clogs under our Christmas tree even though we aren’t Dutch. It is a fantastic place.
People in Eastern Europe have also been more racist than people in the United States. I know we still have a lot of problems with racial issues, but we live in a society that has integrated many races. I was talking to a Serbian the other day and he was saying how bad it would be if African Americans became the majority of the population. I was shocked; he thought that they were a lower caste, and that if the population distribution changed, the US would fail. It was as if he thought that only a state run by ex-Europeans could continue as a functioning state. People also look at the Roma (or Gypsy) people as an almost blight on society. I understand that there is a huge historical tradition of marginalizing these people, but Europeans continue to say that the Roma refuse to integrate into society, while it looks like the Europeans haven’t made this integration easy.
I find it fascinating, and scary, to talk to people from countries farther to the East, like Serbia and Armenia. Some of these countries have such nationalistic beliefs, that it helps me understand the Balkan Wars and Armenia’s continued dislike of Turkey. By talking to other people, I can, albeit subjectively, learn history from a more personal aspect.

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