We Aren’t So Different After All

By By [email protected]

By [email protected]

Alison LeeMasters of [email protected]

Dear Editor-

I am a TA for a leadership course on campus. Shortly after I began working for that class, I learned that my professor’s sexual orientation is different than mine. This knowledge disturbed me in the beginning, but as we have worked together I do not feel that it has affected our work in any way. In fact, the more that I learn about her, the more I find that we have in common. After attending Pride Day, my professor commented to me what a great day it was, but that I probably would not understand. At first I agreed with her, but then I thought about the times when I have been around people with whom I share similar beliefs. I realized that I understood her more than I had thought and I have had similar experiences.

A lifetime of travel experiences and contact with people from other countries has taught me to want to learn about people, not to change them. This idea was reinforced many times during a recent study abroad trip I went on to Ecuador. Many of the Ecuadorians that I associated with spoke little English and I watched several of the non-Spanish speaking students struggle to communicate. When some of the students relied on the small number of words that they had in common rather than getting discouraged by how much knowledge they lacked, their attitudes changed. I was impressed with the efforts of one student in particular that spoke very little Spanish. She looked for the people that could speak a small amount of English, and somehow they found a way to communicate. Another student that was a little more advanced in the language developed a great relationship with our chauffeur. She taught him some English and he helped her with Spanish.

Something else that stood out to me was the Ecuadorian health care system. At first glance, and according to our standards, the hospitals were a little behind the times. I was concerned when I saw several patients in the same room and wondered what HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) would think. It was hard to watch women laboring on stretchers in the maternity hospital, screaming in pain. I was told that they endured the pain because of their culture; however, there were no resources that made pain medication available, so that theory was never really tested. I admired how tough they were.

Along the same lines, many Ecuadorian hospital workers that I talked to were forced to work two jobs because of how low their wages were. However, that did not stop them from doing high quality work and enjoying it. These workers looked a lot like some of the people I knew in the States, but in Ecuador, it was the doctors and nurses who were working a second job, not just the maintenance workers and the secretaries.

The differences in Ecuador were easy for me to identify; however, as I continued to learn about their lives, I realized that differences did not need to prevent us from working together. I began to understand why they did what they did and gained a deeper respect and admiration for them. A part of them has come home with me and I hope that I never forget the lessons these people taught me.

So, the next time that I feel uncomfortable with someone with whom I am different, I have learned to take the opportunity to learn more about them and focus on the things that we have in common. I have learned that people are not so different after all, and my life has been changed forever.