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The Westminster Bi-Line

How world travel burst my bubble

We have all heard from our parents or teachers that “Westminster is a bubble.” Throughout the years, I have had a unique opportunity to understand and experience this phenomenon by traveling the world for fencing. During my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I traveled all over the United States, Europe, Asia, and South America a few times a month to fence at different tournaments. Undoubtedly, the memories I made will stick with me forever, but these experiences also revealed how we often take our present luxuries for granted. Through my experiences chatting with fencers from different countries, as well as with the locals of the city, I have developed a more holistic view of the world. By comparing their experiences with mine, I have come to realize how fortunate I am and how we all share similar struggles, no matter where we come from. 

Although our struggles may sometimes seem earth shattering, there is no doubt that the hardships we experience are considered “first world” problems. People like us often feel anxious or vexed when our wifi goes out, traffic intensifies, and Chick-fil-a is closed. In reality, although we try to empathize with other people’s unfortunate realities, we can never truly understand how difficult their lives are. For example, when I traveled back to Bulgaria, the homeland of my fencing coach and a struggling country, I witnessed how lower and even middle-class citizens are fighting to survive. During the 1990s when my coach used to train four to five hours a day, he practiced with no electricity, AC, or sufficient food after practice. Brandon Thomas, an Upper School English teacher, shares similar viewpoints about the time that he was living in Vietnam. 

“Especially in rural areas of Vietnam, water itself, something that we take highly for granted, is a commodity,” said Thomas.

Again, our society is often so hyperfocused on our own concerns that we fail to sympathize with the much more pressing issues that other human beings face. As members of a highly privileged community, we must learn to fully appreciate the privilege and opportunities that we possess in order to fully take advantage of the fact that since we are at an advantage, we need to help those who are less fortunate. 

Life does not solely consist of struggles. While all humans can find enjoyment in their environment, their dreams, aspirations, and what they constitute as satisfaction varies greatly around the world. As Westminster students, we may take many things for granted. Often we only focus on things that we do not currently have. In fact, going to school itself is a privilege in many countries, something Westminster students can view as a burden. In fact, we relish the weekend and time out of school: Friday night football games, fancy restaurants with friends, or luxurious beaches and mountain houses. Similarly, everyone at Westminster focuses intently on being accepted into their dream college, and when unsuccessful, we feel that the world has just ended. In contrast, while I was talking to a 14-year-old street vendor in Bogota, Columbia, I learned that his dream is to one day save enough money to attend school. His happiest moments are when he goes back home after a long week and sees his family for the first time in a while. As another example, while Mr. Thomas was working as a line cook in Wisconsin, he had an interaction with a colleague that notably changed his perspective on American society. His fellow cook immigrated from Mexico, working 14-16 hours a day, for 14 years, to send all of his money back to Mexico. For him, “the dream was just to be in America” and provide enough for his family back home. There was no dream to go to an Ivy League school or become a wealthy investment banker. Likewise, when traveling back to a rural village in China, my dad explained how growing up, he went to school and worked in the fields until almost midnight. His most joyous moment was simply being able to eat eggs, a luxurious item that could be only afforded on holidays in China. I give you these examples not to bring guilt to our luxuries or our goals in life, but instead to remind you that we are very fortunate people who have a plethora of opportunities others can only dream of obtaining. Thus, let us continue to push forward and give everything our best shot, knowing that we are blessed with our environment and ability to reach farther than many people around the world. 

Again, my goal is to expose you to different life experiences, not to shame your lives. I want us to understand the hardships and struggles of other human beings so we can make adjustments to the way we view our own lives. Frankly, we live in a fair and luxurious society, where if we work hard enough, success usually follows. Therefore, as students in a heavily privileged bubble, we should embrace the challenges we face and know that the work we do today will benefit us in the long run. Let us not complain about our own hardships and trials, but instead feel appreciative of everything that has been given to us. Let us build a community where we continue to push forward together and help those who are less fortunate. 

Edited by Phoebe Clayton

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