It’s no secret that high school is a time of growth, change, and rediscovery. Through all of these adjustments, one thing definitely stays constant: each person’s individual culture. In an attempt to see the effects of culture on teenagers, we asked two RHS students to recount how their respective cultures have shaped their high school careers. Here are their stories.
Whether or not this is a good thing, people tend to group together those from similar cultural backgrounds. As a biracial white and Asian, this both ostracized me and included me in different ways. Although my mom immigrated from Taiwan, I can’t speak any language other than English. Thus, I was excluded from the conversations that some people would have in other languages. I was never quite considered entirely part of any racial group, but often I had common ground with both.
In fact, one of my closest friends through high school and middle school is someone who is also half white and half-Asian. We bonded over our shared mish-mash of cultures and unique background. It is difficult to say if my ethnic background earned me more or less of a connection with others, though I would likely side with less. In my experience, students at RHS never purposefully discriminate, despite there being a natural inclination for many to gravitate towards those similar to them.
Since I am a first generation American with parents from West Africa and the Caribbean, and being that I lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for nine years of my life, starting at RHS was quite the interesting experience for me. I had never been to a public school in such a primarily white town before and I had no idea what to expect. Coming from a heavily diverse area such as Riyadh to a town like Ridgewood was certainly a culture shock. Everything was new to me. The students that attended GW thought I was a former student from BF and vice versa. Every time someone asked me a question about my previous whereabouts, I would have a prepared speech ready to deliver. I felt inclined to give my life story to them, to make sure they understood the “full picture”. As I gravitated towards the friends I have today, I no longer felt the need to excessively explain myself. I now feel as though my past experiences have brought me to a clearer and newer perspective of the world around me. I feel as though I have something new to bring to the table because of my cultural differences.
Maryam Kourouma and Alexandra Jerdee
Every day around the RHS campus, we see friend groups comprised of different ethnicities and cultures interacting with one another. Complete strangers can create a lifelong bond over their cultural differences or similarities. We certainly cannot underestimate the emotional and mental impact of finding a group of people who can relate through shared life experiences. Despite our different cultures, we have become close friends. Culture may help or hurt students through high school, but it certainly cannot define them.
Take Asian Fest, for example, these students are able to bond with each other and celebrate the culture of many of their ancestors. This a beautiful thing that has not only brought students together but also shared traditional Asian culture with the rest of the student body. RHS makes a valiant effort at integrating what diversity we have at this school to cultivate a healthy learning environment.
We often underestimate the power of diversity in an environment as important as high school, where some of the most important life lessons we gather are taught. As we grow up, it is crucial that we learn about cultures beyond our own to have a more accepting world view. We must use our differences to our advantage and contribute to the creation of an even more caring community at RHS.
Alexandra Jerdee and Maryam Kourouma
Graphic: Amelia Chen & Anna Sutor