Degrassi as Foreign Policy

Meet Losang Rabgey, she’s the National Geographic Emerging Explorer and co-founder of Machik, a nonprofit helping communities on the Tibetan plateau. She sums up what should be every country’s foreign policy platform in four short sentences:

“My cousin in Tibet is an illiterate subsistence farmer. By accident of birth, I was raised in the West and have a Ph.D. The task of our generation is to cut through the illusion that we inhabit separate worlds. Only then will we find the heart to rise to the daunting but urgent challenges of global disparity.:

I’m lucky enough to say that I have had the continual pleasure of working with people from a multitude of cultural and geographical backgrounds. In particular, I have spent a great deal of time working with youth from across America, Canada, and the world. Right now, I happen to be working in New Jersey with a phenomenal group of teens.

One of the byproducts of spending so much time with Americans is having to put up with a great deal of humour directed at Canada and my Canadian-ness. I’m used to it – I roll with the punches, and poke fun right back at the Americans’ quirks. As a result of this vast experience in being the butt end of Canadian jokes, I have come to surmise that a book has been compiled and circulated amongst all Americans detailing the steps they should take when meeting Canadians, because I have virtually the same experience every time I meet a new group. It looks something like this:

How to meet a Canadian: What Americans must say when meeting someone from North of the 49th Parallel.

Step One: “Can you say a-boot?” (About)
Step Two: “Can you say oot?” (Out)
Step Three: “Can you say sow-ry?” (Sorry)
Step Four: “Do you watch Degrassi?”

And that’s just about how it goes every time. Most of the time, when I meet a new group of Americans, there are a few days where my cultural and linguistic “other-ness” is the highlite of the day, and then we move on. But not so for the past two weeks.

These past two weeks, I have been working with a group of teens who have felt the need to reference my being from Canada at least once an hour. I am constantly made aware of the fact that I am supposedly “different,” “the stranger,” and “the other.” While I can take it all in stride and know that they bear no real malice, I’ve come to grow quite concerned at what appears to be an increasing level of xenophobia, or at least a growing perception of disparity between Canadians and Americans. Perhaps it is a result of current foreign policy in both countries, or maybe it’s related to education; whatever the case may be, it is a disturbing reality.*

The past two weeks have been intriguing. They’ve been a continual reminder that in the 21st century, the notion that we all “inhabit separate worlds,” is not only false, but destructive. It is quite true that we all percieve the world differently and interact within it in (sometimes vastly) different ways, but it is clearly the same world. The (slowly) growing realization that environmental protection is not a series of national crises, but a singular international one is proof positive of this reality.

When we waste time highliting the differences between Canadians and Americans, we lose the opportunity to talk about meaningful things. When we waste time questioning our compatability, we lose the opportunity to make positive change in the world.

The more we percieve non-existent disparity to exist between cultures, the more it has a chance to actually exist. We self-actualize our differences… they aren’t forced upon us by outsiders. Such a simple reality to confront – shouldn’t we be able to start with educated teenagers from America?

*I should note that after making reference to my concerns, I have been approached by a number of the kids who offered sincere appologies. I laughed it off and told them I knew that it wasn’t intended to be hurtful, but reminded them that one of the highest Jewish values is welcoming the stranger. A good learning opportunity for them.

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