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What If…

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

CCI Global Peacebuilding Workshop

Last Friday, our founder, Ruth Gopin, was honored to participate in the annual Global Peacebuilding Workshop of the Community College Initiative Program (CCI). The program took place at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and was facilitated by David J. Smith, a professor of Conflict Resolution and career consultant. Ruth spoke on a panel alongside representatives from the United States Institute of Peace and Alliance for Peacebuilding about the role young people can play in addressing global challenges.

Ruth then assisted in facilitating an Entrepreneurship activity that engaged the students, and challenged them to think about how they can contribute to solving problems around the world.

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The students were split into four groups and given theoretical funding for a new venture. Working in diverse teams with colleagues from around the world, the students were give 30 minutes to think of a shared problem they were interested in addressing, and an innovative solution to that challenge. The teams then presented each of their proposals to the rest of the class.

We were blown away by the incredibly innovate solutions that each group presented. The students were thoughtful and passionate, and answered the questions of their peers with attentive enthusiasm.

We were so grateful to be involved in this workshop at NOVA, and eager to continue interacting with and learning from smart, passionate college students!

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If you would like to invite our founder, Ruth Gopin, to come speak at your event or assist in organizing a workshop, please contact us

Division and Opportunity

My favorite place in the world is the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. For me this has always been a spot that represents the very best of America. I love the intense pride, the intense diversity, the intense independence of everyone there. Each for their own purpose, each with their own meaning.

As I walk around and silently take in the words etched into stone on the walls of the vast memorial, I overhear parents explaining those words to their children. Each with a slightly different interpretation.

“Who was Lincoln?” asks a child.

“The man who freed the slaves,” replies a parent.

“The man who saved our country,”  replies another.

I love that they are both correct, that this one President can represent so many different things to so many different people from all around the world. I stand there in gleeful awe of the knowledge that so many people, from so many different walks of life, have walked up and down these steps before me.

Today, America is facing undeniable political polarization. The country is split between Democrat and Republican. Left and Right. Blue and Red.

Source: Business Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com/sociology-explains-polarization-politics-2017-3

But the divisions run deeper than that. It’s not just Left or Right, Blue or Red. It’s about race, ethnicity, and culture. It’s about who our parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents were. Where they were born. How they were raised. And, in turn, how we were raised.

But there is nothing more Un-American, in my view, than to be resigned to a bleak future. That’s never been the American Way. The American Way is to press on against adversity, forge new paths, and hope the world follows our lead.

I’m so excited to be launching this initiative on Election Day 2018. I think there is no better time than now to stand up and say – no matter the outcome tonight, we will unite across divides. We will listen to one another even if we don’t agree. In fact, even if we violently disagree.

AmerXchange is not about sacrificing core beliefs and values in exchange for a surface level photo-op with someone who is different than ourselves. It is not about apologies for wrongs committed long ago. Or being asked to forgive the unforgivable.

AmerXchange is about collaborating with one another. Working together to build a better future for ourselves and our children.

Because we ARE the future, and we know it.

It is college students like you, and like myself not very long ago, who understand what is really at stake this Election Night. And it isn’t the control of the House or the Senate. It’s control of America.

America’s future is in our hands. Not just political, but economic and social too. AmerXchange is about getting involved in shaping that future, even if – pause for gasp – you DIDN’T VOTE today (sshhh, you didn’t hear it from me!).

You’ll likely hear more about my journey and AmerXchange in the coming posts, but I want to hear from you too. So where ever you are from, whatever your story, please write to me. You can of course use the contact information provided on this site, but if you would like to contact me directly my email is ruthgopin@gmail.com.

I can’t wait to collaborate with you!

– Ruth Gopin, Founder

All Sides

As we head into another week of what is the now the longest Government Shutdown in U.S. History, the news cycle may begin to feel repetitive and depressing. In fact, maybe it already felt that way two weeks ago.

An easy solution is to turn off the TV, pretend it won’t affect your life, and go about your business. Before you do, I implore you to consider: do you have friends or family members that are currently left without knowing when their next paycheck will come? Will you be able to file for a tax refund this year, or have access to other government services you rely on? Will you feel safe living in this country without a functioning government? Or perhaps without a $5.7 billion border wall? Is there really no way in which this admittedly, frustrating, politically motivated standoff will affect you or anyone you love?

One of the appeals that both Democrats and Republicans have been making is to our morality and sense of justice as Americans. Both sides share stories meant to tug at our heartstrings. Furloughed workers who have to choose between paying the rent or feeding their families. Victims of violent crimes perpetuated by undocumented immigrants. And they are both correct. There are people hurting on every side of this fight. Not to mention the migrants themselves, who are just chasing the American opportunities that those of us who are citizens often take for granted. Like a democratic government that will not allow any one person or party to dictate policy without checks and balances.

Another tactic that people often employ when frustrated by politicians re-hashing the same arguments over and over is to flee to the comfort of like-minded folks who “get it.” There is no denying the appeal of this. Watching celebrities, comedians, TV and radio personalities tear down the people you disagree with – pointing out their stupidity, and making fun of their slip-ups – can be a relief when it seems like there’s no way forward. Hopelessness and despair momentarily cured by laughter or a well timed zinger.

The danger of this approach is becoming so entrenched in a group of like-minded people that you forget the rest of the country is doing the same. As your Twitter and Facebook feeds fill with Late Show and @AOC posts, somewhere else someone’s feed is a steady stream of Ann Coulter and @realDonaldTrump. Or vis versa. The news sites you reflexively open are similarly unlikely to have more than one viewpoint represented.

All news is biased. All people are biased.

And that’s okay.

We all have our unique stories, that are naturally shaped by the people around us. That’s not going to change anytime soon. However, there are a few things that we can do to ensure that we don’t get so deeply entrenched in our own viewpoint, our own stories, that we forget to hear others.

We can become conscientious consumers of more stories by reading AllSides of the news. We can follow bills being brought forth in Congress and weigh in on issues directly, instead of waiting to hear about them in a pre-packaged message from one party or the other. We can make the effort to find nonpartisan, fact-based explanations of topics in the news, like this helpful article about the history and effectiveness of border walls. We can follow people that we wouldn’t normally agree with on social media, because as much as we might want to shut them out and pretend they don’t exist, they do. Whether it’s the family of immigrants down the street that you don’t trust because they are still learning English, or the family of right-wing conservatives who you fear because they own guns. They exist. They are patriotic Americas just like you. And they are here to stay.

So hear them out.