What I so love about teaching at an international school is the wide range of multicultural viewpoints I am confronted with daily. When you first arrive you don’t feel that you have a distinct identity that classifies you as anything but yourself. But the more I interacted with the cornucopia of nationalities, the more I realized…I’m an American.
And the more you become American in your global the community, the more beat up you get for things that your country has done, is doing, will do. I am not to blame for George W. Bush. I am not to blame for Nike sweatshops. I am not to blame for Iraq, Afghanistan, Japanese Internment, Abu Ghraib, the Trail of Tears, the African Slave trade, the Atomic Bomb…or am I?
My friends and I went out to enjoy the evening’s warmth in an outdoor café. We drank some cocktails, we savored some delicious food, we told stories, and continually reminded each other how lucky we were to have jobs, roofs over our heads, and peace in our countries.
As we talked of our subjects, students, and homes, the conversation turned to guilt. How guilty should we feel for the atrocities our countries have committed? Do we need to apologize to someone? Should the Spaniard apologize to the Latin American even though the Latin American hates her for something that occurred in 1518? Should the American apologize for her family that owned slaves in the 1800’s? Should the German apologize for his family’s connection to World War II?
Just how responsible are we for the tragedies that have taken place in our world? How responsible are we for the acts our country commits today? And what is our responsibility to the students we teach? How do we teach them to reconcile with those people who will not forgive you for your nation’s past?
We agreed to disagree. We agreed that we could only give our students a space to become aware that their countries, like heroes, have their good sides and bad sides. There is much to be proud of and much to come to grips with.
In spite of how uncomfortable the conversation became I was thrilled to be a part of it. I was thankful that we could sit and lie out all that Weltschmerz on the table and push it around a little. The world has pain, our countries had contributed to that pain, but what we do with that pain is part of each individual’s own personal journey.