Opinion: Building a friendlier world starts at home

On Wednesday, I had the chance to hearken to a dialog between Gov. Mike Dunleavy and trade college students from 5 totally different international locations. One of the numerous questions they requested got here from Ahmed, a 17-year-old boy from Bahrain. He wished to listen to the governor’s concepts for encouraging extra individuals to maneuver to Alaska.

Acknowledging our distant place in America and the cooler and wetter local weather we endure, Dunleavy instructed them it’s not a spot for everybody. But to individuals like him who got here right here way back and stayed, his message was easy. There’s lots to like about Alaska.

I don’t wish to diminish the sentiments he expressed about his adopted residence. But each governor loves their state. Every mayor loves town they serve. It’s an unstated prerequisite for looking for such workplaces.

It’s additionally one of many issues we search for when recruiting households to host trade college students. They usually tend to have a constructive expertise in America residing with individuals who have a deep connection to the social and bodily environments of their communities.

As a volunteer, I’ve been concerned with the Kennedy-Luger YES program since 2011. It gives scholarship for college students from international locations with important Muslim populations. Administered by the U.S. State Department, the objective is to assist Americans higher perceive the tradition of the scholars’ residence international locations. And give them an appreciation for the beliefs and the range that type the spine of American society.

For the previous seven months, I’ve been Ahmed’s group liaison. Right after he arrived in August, his host father took him fishing for salmon. That first Alaskan journey included paddling a kayak and seeing humpback whales breach. He’s since been out mountain climbing and biking, realized to ice skate on the Treadwell Arena, and loved snowboarding at Eaglecrest. He joined the JDHS cross-country crew within the fall and is now a member of its soccer crew.

His expertise has been like that of 20 different college students I’ve labored with over time. And based mostly on the alumni testimonials I heard whereas at a program workshop final weekend, most Muslim college students have fond recollections of their yr in America irrespective of the place they lived.

But a boy from Pakistan who’s at the moment attending faculty in a small rural Wisconsin group instructed us a unique story. Although he’s developed a wholesome bond along with his host household and has excelled academically, he hasn’t been properly obtained by most individuals locally. His classmates on the faculty hardly acknowledge him. The grownup athletic coaches have refused to speak with him.

His host mom described the county as “insular.” There are many prefer it in America’s heartland, in accordance with volunteers from these areas. They defined it’s extraordinarily troublesome to search out host households and faculties prepared to just accept Muslim trade college students. As a end result, many of the 900 that come every year wind up in communities the place individuals settle for them with open arms.

When the YES program was established in 2002, Congress understood it was a small step on an extended highway to altering hearts and minds in each worlds. Placing trade college students in communities unwelcoming to the Muslims has the potential to extra profoundly serve that long-term goal. But it additionally dangers having college students return residence with much less favorable picture of America, leaving them much less geared up and probably much less prepared to counter anti-America sentiments of their international locations.

Meanwhile, as Americans have grow to be much less tolerant of our cultural variations, a wall has gone up between rural communities and metropolitan/suburban areas. The State Department can’t remedy that. It’s as much as us to create a friendlier America.

These trade college students may information us there. On a worldwide stage, they got here to make associates in America by studying about our tradition whereas sharing theirs. Like them, we should first consider it’s potential.

Maybe we are able to agree to start out by acknowledging that love for America isn’t contingent on political ideology, faith or the rest. That we’re sure collectively by the widespread historical past that gave beginning to the freedoms that permit us to be totally different. And that these are additional grounded within the totally different locations we every affectionally we name residence.

If that’s an excessive amount of to ask, then we’re heading to a path that may dim our picture because the “shining city on the hill.”

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