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A Goodman is Hard to Find: Experiencing culture, broadening horizons

Published: December 9, 2011
Section: Opinions


As humans, experience is a crucial part of our education. Experiences not only teach us, they change us as people. Sometimes our collisions with other cultures can be educational in and of themselves.

When I arrived at camp for my last summer as a camper, I was greeted by a crowd of staff members. This summer camp has a program set up with an agency in Israel. The agency sends approximately 15 Israelis to the United States to become counselors for the summer. Not only will this help teach the children about their “homeland”—Israel—but the counselors will also learn just as much from the campers about the United States and our different culture.

Once we settled down, they divided us into cabins, with each cabin being comprised of about 10 individuals of the same age. One of our counselors was an Israeli named Guy. When I first heard his name, I wasn’t sure whether they didn’t know it or that it was his actual name. After he introduced himself, I couldn’t determine whether Guy was a nickname or his real name. It was his real birth name. Guy wasn’t exactly the kind of person I would stereotypically think was from Israel. He was a skinny, pale, white guy. Personally, when I think of Israel, I think of a dark-skinned, big, buff guy. Guy was the complete opposite. From then on, I realized stereotypes were almost never true. Throughout the three weeks we really got to know each other. Guy told us about where he lived and about his life at home. We shared with him stories of our growing up in the United States.

I remember when we were all just sitting around the cabin talking and we all started to ask Guy about how Israelis stereotypically thought about Americans. What he told us was almost exactly the opposite from what we are really like in the United States. This reinforced my idea about stereotypes and made me aware that stereotypes work both ways.

Another moment that I can clearly remember was when Guy decided to shave his head. It was just getting dark when I heard Guy talking about how hot it was. So a kid in my cabin who had very short hair suggested he should just shave his hair off. Surprisingly he agreed and it was set: That night, at around 10 p.m., we would help him to perform the task and the two boys’ bunks in the unit were going to watch. That evening, about 20 guys crammed into the bathroom with their cameras. “Before” pictures were taken, and then they began. As they made the first pass of the electric razor across his head, everyone cheered with excitement. I was up on the bench taking a video from above. After the event finished, Guy stood up looked in the mirror and gave a weird smile. It seemed as if he couldn’t believe what he had just done. We all took “after” pictures and as we passed to go to our cabins for the night, we all rubbed his freshly shaved head, as if it were Buddha’s. He was fine with it the next day. He told us about how his Israeli friends approached him at the staff meeting that evening. He said that they couldn’t believe he actually did it. They too rubbed his shiny, freshly-shaved head.

Guy was one of the first foreign people I had ever met, and certainly the first one with whom I had a real relationship. I have never been to another country except for Canada, so meeting Guy was an experience in itself. That summer Guy wasn’t just a counselor, he became a real friend. Through learning about his background and culture in Israel, I became conscious about exactly how different yet alike people are. Before meeting Guy, I would have thought that, if someone lived in a different country, they would also be different. After meeting him, I realized that we are all basically the same even if we are raised in different places with different cultures and experiences. Not only did I end up appreciating his differences and similarities after spending three weeks with him, I wanted to get on a plane and go experience what he talked about for real.

Guy totally changed my perspective on the world. My experience with him transformed me from a normal U.S. citizen to a global one. As a global citizen, I now truly know to appreciate others from different cultures. In fact, people from different cultures educate others about themselves. I now yearn to learn about other cultures throughout the world, no matter how varied. I just cannot get over how little I haven’t experienced and I have yet to experience.

After leaving camp for the last time after those three incredible weeks I not only had a great time, I was inspired. Ever since my introduction to Guy and the different culture he has, I now want to travel all over the world. I suddenly have the desire to go to Italy, Spain, England and many other places. I can say honestly that a huge part of why I’m going abroad next semester was my experience with Guy that summer. Through Guy, I developed the desire to know about other countries I have yet to experience in my 16 years so far. Guy shaped the way that I think about the world and the way that I relate to other people.