What if you could meet people who come from a completely different culture and background? Practically a whole different world? What if you could learn from them about their community, history, and way of life?

Now what if I told you those people are not 5000 miles away, but 50? Not a world away, not even a state away sometimes, but right here, in your own backyard. Maybe sitting around your Thanksgiving table right now.

Would that excite you?

Scare you?

Frustrate you?

…maybe all of the above?

I know that’s how this realization felt for me.

It started when I was sitting at a desk in Sri Lanka. I had taken everyone’s advice to go live abroad.

“It will be great,” they said. “You’ll learn so much!”

And they weren’t wrong. It was an incredible experience to live overseas for 4 months in Sri Lanka, and later for 9 months in Jerusalem. Not to mention 3 years of college in Canada. But that’s a story for another time. For now, let’s return to the desk in Sri Lanka.

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Me, standing next to my desk in Sri Lanka, wearing a traditional saree.

I remember sitting at that desk, and watching on my computer as Brexit happened. Speaking the next day with one of the other volunteers at the nonprofit I was working for, who was from London. He was distraught. Couldn’t believe there was such a division of opinion about something so fundamental to his experience of being a UK citizen as EU membership.

I remember sitting at that same desk as Trump won the Republican primary and Clinton the Democratic primary. Speaking with other volunteers from around the world, and native Sri Lankans, who couldn’t understand what was happening in my country.

“Didn’t you guys already have a Civil War? Over 100 years ago?” they asked. “Is this going to lead to another one?”

I didn’t know how to answer, but it did begin to dawn on me that part of the reason I didn’t know how to answer was because I was there with them – and not back at home alongside the people who were making those fateful decisions.

I don’t want to knock studying abroad too much, because I do think there are many benefits. Learning about the rest of the world is definitely important, and it teaches you a lot about your own country, community, and identity along the way. But after returning from my journeys abroad, I realized how little I’ve seen of the country I was born and raised in. The country that will always be my Home.

 

So now my appeal to you is to help me learn about my Home. Tell me your story, invite me to your school, let me know what is most important to you. I want to hear – today of all days – about every variation of American that’s out there. I want to start answering the biggest “What if…” there is:

What if we could start listening to each other? Learning from one another? What if we could start collaborating with others to keep this country running?

What if…what if together we could build the best version of America yet?

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Happy Thanksgiving,

Ruth Gopin

Co-Founder, AmerXchange