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Letter to the Editor: Ahna Van Valkenburg

In October of 2015, Alex Gray submitted an article to this publication that claimed, “All students would BREW bet- ter if they just stayed home.” I was a sophomore at the time, and I remember the flurry of discussion it caused. My Ger- man 111 course discussed the article. I didn’t know what I thought. Alex Gray was an up- perclassman. He was someone I respected and he had ample reasoning for his argument, but I felt incredibly uncomfort- able with the conclusion. Mr. Gray wrote the article while studying abroad in India. This led me to wonder, “Would he have still had this realization in America?” Now two years after his claim, with plenty of time to think about it and with my own experience abroad, I finally feel prepared to respond to Mr. Gray from Ireland.

In class, I hear a student say, “no offense, but that story just didn’t sound right in your ac- cent.” I look at the American who had haltingly read the Irish prose. I’m embarrassed of the US school system. Her face flushes with embarrassment. The class is called Negotiating Irish Identity. We don’t belong.

I am visiting the Book of Kells in Dublin. The security guard stops me to talk about Donald Trump. He says, “I think Trump is going to do great things.” There is an anti- Trump rally in downtown Dub- lin. I can’t tell if he is serious, so I try to stay neutral. I re- spond, “Well, I don’t agree with his statements or actions, but I do have to accept the results of the election.”

My roommate sits down by me in Belgium. She asks, “Did you hear about the immigra- tion ban?” She says, “My friend went home for break and now she can’t fly back to school. She’s from Iran.”

In the Brussels airport a scan finds metal in my carry-on. The guard says, “I don’t want to go through your bag. Could you find it?” I meekly pull out the Leatherman I forgot I packed. He just smiles and tells me I can put it in my checked bag if I want.

I’m going through customs in Ireland. A man from Greece is standing at the next window. He doesn’t understand the guard. I get waved through. He gets treated like a small child.

My dad calls and tells me Trump fired the Attorney Gen- eral. He says maybe I should say I’m from Canada when I’m traveling.

None of these experiences were uncomfortable for long. Still, they could easily be used to craft a narrative filled with Mr. Gray’s “false sense of over- coming adversity;” however, I find they have done the exact opposite. These incidents have forced me to acknowledge how fortunate I am to be a white, Christian American. Although I have that privilege, I am still ashamed to see how those who are not “like me” are treated in my country and around the world. Watching the current political upheaval while study- ing abroad has shifted my per- spective in a powerful way. When I explained the Electoral College to an Irish citizen, I re- alized how important it was for me to keep following the news that frequently upsets me. I’m learning to accept national identity, warts and all. Study- ing away has motivated me to finally write this, to be respon- sibility engaged.

Two years after Mr. Gray’s article was published, while his points are still valid, I’ve found that if you want to BREW, you could study abroad.

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