Growing up in sunny California, in a little bubble of a college town, I have been privileged to experience the best side of America. I went to a local public elementary school that focused on experiential learning and reveled in its bohemian culture of loving the intellectual journey as much as the outcome. Our science classes were held in our school’s own farm, growing our own plants from seeds we planted and understanding photosynthesis under a blue sky. All this shaped my love for learning. In class, I was surrounded by diversity in every shape, form size and color. My best friend in 3rd grade had two loving mothers. My bi-racial classmate in 4th grade had two fathers, one of whom was Mexican. Both dads attended our parent-teacher meetings. I loved my black American friend as much as I loved my physically challenged friend.
There were strong role models everywhere I turned. I looked up to powerful women: my school principal, the librarian, the stay-home mothers, intelligent women who had given up their corporate jobs to raise their children in their way, and my next door neighbour: a brilliant plastic surgeon and single mother.
When I turned 10, my parents took the tough decision to move back to India, despite loving their life in California. Within the loving cocoon of extended family, I settled into Indian culture, tradition and language. But somewhere inside, I knew I would return to the US for college because the liberal, inclusive and fun learning experience that had shaped my formative years had left an indelible mark on me. That Socratic environment that encouraged intellectual curiosity and critical thinking, respected equality & gender justice in such a fun way is exactly what I hoped my college experience would comprise.
When the time to begin application drew closer, campaigns for the US presidential elections were beginning to gather steam. As I listened to presidential debates by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I began to feel extremely uneasy that Mr. Trump seemed to believe in many of the things I despised so much. His speeches and debates reeked of bigotry, racism and misogyny, the very opposite of the values I grew up with. Here was a country that was richer, cleaner, more privileged that my own, yet was unable to celebrate tolerance, diversity and compassion - something even India is able to do.
The panic among my friends in school, both in the US and India, rose and fell in tandem with Mr. Trump’s electoral fortunes. Every day, I would refresh the New York Times’ election forecast (which, in retrospect, completely missed the mark), to give me the motivation to continue working on my applications. When D-Day came, and the results were declared, my friends and I sat in appalled, stupefied silence, unsure whether to cry in anger or sadness. The ugly side of America was exposed as never before. I was forced to take off my rose-colored glasses as I realized that the California bubble I had experienced was in no way a representation of the United States of America. It was an epiphany of sorts and we all went home feeling utterly depressed and deceived. My friends and I had planned to apply to some great liberal arts colleges, but suddenly, after the day’s surprising plot twist, we were checking to see if those colleges were in “blue” states Over the next weeks, my Facebook feed started filling with videos of student protests and increasing news reports on racism and white supremacy. Suddenly my college plans had changed. I no longer wanted to spend 4 years of my life in a state which might have significant hidden racism and intolerance. I created a “Plan B” which included Canada and an option I’d never considered - India!
Amongst all the bleak news, however, there was a ray of hope. I came across an infographic which showed the projected electoral map had my generation alone voted. It was all “blue”, save for 5 states. And that filled me with so much optimism. Because we are the Millennials, the change-makers. And we will make a difference. Mr. Trump’s victory may have made me think twice about applying to certain colleges. But I have also realized that colleges themselves are disturbed by the recent happenings. The reaction and response from various deans & faculty of colleges, and the student population at large, have shown me that many of these colleges share the same values as me. Most college environments, full of Millennials, promote liberal, free thinking regardless of the location’s geographic location.
The fact that all my dream colleges are in liberal places makes me feel better. But regardless of the election results, I believe that an international education, specifically an American education, is invaluable. How we make use of what we learn, is up to us. My generation will have the resilience and the compassion to bring this world back to a better normal. I choose hope over despair, and I’m willing to work for it.
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