Before coming to the U.S., I went to college in Iraq. For four years, I was in classes five days a week from 8 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. I have no clue how my brain is still intact and functioning after that.
I’m not going to attack that style of education, but I will say that I didn’t like it. That’s why I decided to get a fresh start here, where education has a totally different meaning.
In particular, one thing that makes learning in the U.S. unique is that you don’t only learn from books – you learn from the stories of people you meet.
In the U.S., significant efforts are made to bring students from all over the world to study here. It’s almost a guarantee that you are going to meet people who are totally different from you.
I go to school in Duluth. Where is that? I know, right! It’s a small town in Minnesota. However, I have met people there from all around the globe. During my four years at college in Iraq, can you guess how many international students I met? I met none, my dear friends.
Each day at the College of St. Scholastica I interact with people of different cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. I sit with these people in classes, in the school’s restaurants where I eat meals, in the gym when I work out in the evenings, and in the library where I spent hours doing my homework. Those people that I have met have helped me understand the world better than any class I have taken in my life.
I celebrated Thanksgiving holiday with my American friends and carved a whole turkey by myself. In my hometown, we don’t even have turkeys. I helped my African friends raise money for the poor kids in Africa. I celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month. I watched the movie “Braveheart” with my Scottish friend Iain, and got to see through his eyes how Scottish people view the issue of independence.
It is a learning environment where we learn from each other about our differences. These differences do not separate us, but only make us distinct from each other. Yes, it is a place where different cultures and ethnic groups come to collide with no violence.
Last year, around a dinner table at one of my favorite restaurants in Duluth, India Palace, we were more than 20 people. After a while we realized that there was at least one person from every continent (well, except Antarctica). Each one of us shared his or her prayers before starting a meal. Now that’s an experiences that classes would never be able to teach.
You have to be fearless in order to cross these borders that your society and culture might have lined for you. But when you do, it’s so much more than just a classroom or lab where you write notes. It’s a completely different experience.