Lessons Learned Visiting Moraga

Aleksandra Markovic, Staff Writer

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For me, a year abroad is almost at its end.

My experiences as an exchange student have been varied.  What I’ve appreciated most is not what I initially expected it would be.

Although I have been just another “tourist” visiting Campolindo for a year, the teachers I’ve encountered on this campus will be remembered long after I have departed: An English teacher whose lessons I could listen to the whole day, an Art teacher who finally opened doors of arts for me, a Math teacher who helped me enjoy the subject in spite of my limitations, a Science teacher who inspired in me a new passion, a Psychology teacher who helped me better understand a foreign culture, a German teacher who taught me more about the German language in a year than I learned in the previous 11, and a Journalism teacher whose sharp reasoning pushed me to elevate my prose.

Even the teachers on this campus that did not have me in class have left an impression.

I started attending Mark Roberts’ Choir concerts to see my friend, but continued because of the interest they provoked.

English teacher Jamie Donohoe’s Let it Ride amazed me from start to finish.

As a member of the La Puma staff, I had the fortune to interview and interact with many other instructors, administrators and student leaders, all who contributed positively to my experience.

Beyond the campus, my time in the Bay Area offered me culinary adventures: I tried Thai, Indian, and classic American foods.  I also enjoyed the freedom of a young driving age, which allowed for spontaneous trips to the beach courtesy of peers who had their licenses.

The colorful streets of Berkeley, massive and expensive houses of Beverly Hills, beaches of Santa Cruz and Los Angeles, The Museum of Modern Art and the piers of San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, the Hollywood Walk of Fame are all striking settings that will stay with me. 

Not everything was positive about my time here however.

Time spent with peers was sometimes perplexing. Listening to the complaints of the privileged was difficult.  I had to remind myself not be judgmental because this is not my home, not my culture, and these are not always my values.

It’s hard to live somewhere where perfection is laughed upon because it’s a fantasy, and then arrive here where everything is given to you, but it’s almost never appreciated. I’ve heard the world “privilege” thrown in any casual conversation, but it never meant anything.

I remember visiting some UCs with my friend and not believing my eyes, overwhelmed by the opportunities available to so many, and then listening to students criticize these institutions for the most insignificant reasons.

The anxiety suffered by so many students who worry about how many and which universities might accept them was both understandable and yet foreign to me. The colleges and universities considered by some to be “unacceptable” or only “safety schools” looked to me like opportunities I could only dream about.

As an exchange student from a place in the world without such affluence, I must admit that I have not just been annoyed at time, but also envious. The privilege and acceptance that are so often talked about can be more than words. Consider someone else more than yourself if you have bigger privileges, and then accept that someone for something that those privileges don’t stand a chance against.

When my Community Representative from the foreign exchange program Ayusa asked me what is different about me from this experience, I said knowledge

I have learned more in a single year than I did in all of my previous years of schooling. I don’t have all A’s or anything near perfect grades, but I have truly enjoyed school here.

My Community Representative also asked what I think going back home would be like, and I said it would be a reality check.

What lies ahead for me is an education system without the freedom to choose electives, where a remotely interesting lesson is a pleasant surprise, and where a quality scholastic experience is by no means guaranteed.

My return home means rejoining a class of 30 that will spend all 4 years together in a crappy classroom with a broken AC, that will gather information about an upcoming test from other classes who won’t worry about jeopardizing the truncation of their own scores because such a thing doesn’t exist.

I’m going back to a small family that strives against injustice and loves every step of the way.

I’m saying “goodbye” to Safeway, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Target, Starbucks, Bart, garbage disposals, online shopping, School Loop, Language Labs, school lunches, rallies, fields or gyms.

My advice to the Campolindo students I leave behind is this: Take time to appreciate the unique life you are lucky enough to be living, and don’t be afraid to step out of it once in a while.  It just might be the best way to learn what’s truly important, and what is not.

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Lessons Learned Visiting Moraga