Wednesday, May 17, 2017

American Culture

I have always been an independent person. When I was little I wanted to dress myself, put my own shoes on (even when I couldn't tie them) and zip up my own coat. As I got older that independence grew even stronger, and now I try to do everything I can on my own. While this may in some ways be part of my personality, independence and other values that I possess have been shaped and reinforced by American culture. As Kohl wrote in the article, "The Values Americans Live By", our culture has a set of expectations and norms that influence how we interact with one another. Some specific American values include independence, time and its control, and action/work. I am a very punctual person; if I am not at least ten minutes early to an event then I am late. People in Brazil, on the other hand, view time as more of a suggestion. I could not even imagine walking to an interview or a meeting twenty minutes late as if it was no big deal. And this is due to the culture that has shaped me. In America, everyone has similar feelings on time. When a meeting is scheduled, you are expected to be there on time. Though restricting, it is important that people within a culture have similar values so they interact appropriately. If one person had views on time like most Americans, while another had a more Brazilian view, it would be difficult for them to meet and not get frustrated with one another at the timing.

Another value Americans live by is that of action/work. People must be doing something at all times, and if not they are deemed "lazy". I have been described by my family as a "workaholic", I work whenever I can even if I should maybe take a break. Values in the American culture are not always beneficial. When people are working all the time they get stressed, spend less time relaxing, and see their families less. As with many of these values, there needs to be balance.

In the book Thrive, Buettner discusses how Americans can change their actions to make themselves happier. One of the things he suggested that I found fascinating is the idea of a "giving account". The idea is to set aside a certain amoun of money at the beginning of the year to give to charity, but if you experience any unfair, unforeseen costs during that year you can use the account to help pay. Whatever money remains at the end goes to charity. I love this idea because it promotes giving back to others, but does so in a very realistic way that everyone could do. Even if you only put one hundred dollars into the account, you would still be helping others and, as a result, make yourself happier. Other suggestions in the book include meditation, owning a pet, and doing other small things to maximize your happiness. While it is ok to be independent, be on time, and be at work, we must critically examine these values that we have and how they affect our daily lives. As long as we live our lives in moderation, we should be happier individuals.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Culture

Throughout our entire lives, we are affected by culture. We maybe not be completely aware of it, but our thoughts, actions, and behaviors are influenced by the values and expectations of those around us.  I have grown up in the same culture my entire life. However, many different cultures have composed my identity. Of course there is the culture of the United States, but there is also the midwestern culture. There are even smaller subcultures, like at school and at work. Subcultures are smaller sections within a larger culture. They share many aspects with the larger culture, but have enough differences to be distinct.

I personally have not had too much experience with different cultures. I have vacationed to places like Canada and Mexico, and even in my short time there I experienced culture shock. Culture shock is the feeling when you get to a new culture and everything is different and new. As the article "Social Time: The Heartbeat of Culture" showed, everybody culture lives at a different pace of life. It can be a shocking experience to go from a place like the United States, which is very time conscious, to a place like Brazil, where time is more of a suggestion. This article also showed how different cultures have different value placed on time. Cultures like Japan and the United States value time heavily, while countries like Indonesia and Brazil place less emphasis on it. The movie we watched, called "God Grew Tired of Us" also talked about culture shock, as it followed a group of boys who came from Sudan to the United States. The lost boys had to adapt to all the different values and expectations in America in order to succeed and build a new life.

This movie also touched briefly on the ideas of ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is when you judge another culture based on your expectations and norms. Instead of trying to understand the lost boys' perspectives, people in the movie wanted them to act like Americans. They critiqued the Sudanese culture without completely understanding it. Instead, we should use cultural relativity, where we look at each culture individually and in its own context. This helps us to better understand cultures as they truly are.

Next year I will be attending college in California. While I will still be in the United States, the subculture of the west coast is definitely different from the Midwest where I have grown up. Already when I visited, I noticed differences in the material culture. People in California where different clothes, use different slang, and do many other things. I will even have to get used to the subculture of my campus, USC. I have to learn different symbols (like the Fight On hand), different slang, and get used to the values. While it will certainly be an adjustment, I am excited for the change and the new experiences that will come

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Community Service

On Thursday, April 27th, I volunteered my normal time at Equestrian Connection from 4:00-7:00 (plus half an hour of driving). I was, like always, excited to get to the barn and begin working. Everyone has a smile on their face and a positive attitude. Every week I work with a young rider who is only seven years old. He comes after school, so sometimes he is tired and crabby. This week he bang that way, refusing to do anything that I asked. Instead of getting frustrated, I tried to think like him. I began telling him what "not" to do, so that he would listen to me. It worked well, and it got him laughing hysterically. My goal for every single one of my rides is to get the client laughing, or at least smiling. I know they sometimes have tough days, so I always want to make their days better. For the adults that came that day, I worked with a man that I had never worked with before because my normal rider was sick. Unfortunately, he was also having a rough day and would not get on his horse. It definitely is a little defeating when I am unable to help a client one day. However, I have learned that I can't dwell on these failures and will instead try to do something different next week. Though this was not the most successful week, I still left feeling happy that I made a difference in at least one person's life.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Community Service

Starting my freshman year of high school, I began volunteering at an organization called Equestrian Connection. It is located at 600 N. Bradley Road in Lake Forest. Equestrian Connection provides hippotherapy, which is when kids and adults with disabilities receive therapy through horseback riding.

On April 13th, from 4:00-7:00 (plus half an hour of driving), I volunteered with a special group. Every Thursday, a group of riders from NSSRA (Northern suburban special recreation association) come to our barn for horseback riding. I have been working with the group since I began volunteering there, so I know some of the riders very well. With this particular group, I have the job of being a coach. This means that I get the child or adult on the horse and run the lesson. Depending on their ability level, I teach them riding skills like steering and stopping the horse on their own. On my way to volunteer this particular Thursday, I was very excited. It had been a long week, and I always enjoy coming to the barn instead of having to do homework. Normally during my three hours I work with six different riders- three kids and three adults. One of my kids wasn't there because he was having surgery, so instead I helped with another lesson. Instead of coaching, I lead the horse for that lesson. This day was also special because one of my adult riders had become advanced enough that we were putting a bridle on her horse for the first time. With the bridle, a horse has a piece of metal in her mouth called a bit that the rider uses to control the horse. I was a little nervous because this particular rider of mine has trouble staying focused. However, the lesson went extremely well. She was proud of herself for becoming so independent with her horse. Another great part of volunteering with an organization for so long is that I get to see the progress riders make over the months, and even years.

The next week, April 20th, I returned again for the same time to work with the same group. I was excited to come in because over the weekend we had gotten a new pony, and I hadn't met him yet. I arrived early so that before I had to start working I could go and meet the new pony. His name is Snickerdoodles (Snickers for short) and he is such a cute pony. We haven't incorporated him into the program yet, but it seems like he will be a good fit. That week my rider returned who had surgery the week before. He was so excited to be back that he almost ran out the door when it was time to get on the horse. With that ride, one hard part is that he always wants to end early, but this week I was able to keep him on for the entire lesson. I was proud of him because he had such a good ride. One of my favorite memories from that week was one of my adult riders was talking to me about going off to college. He kept asking if I would write him letters and come visit, and I promised him that I would. It was a bittersweet moment- I loved how he was expressing himself to me, but I was sad that next year I wouldn't be able to participate in this program again. That gives me all the more reason to focus on it now, and I love every minute of it.

Here are some pictures of me with the horses I work with, as well as a picture of Snickers just because he is cute.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Race

Throughout my life, I have always been considered to be a good student. I get good grades in my classes and do my homework on time. While this wouldn't seem to have anything to do with race, it began to when my classmates would say "Are you sure you're not Asian? Because you're too smart to be white." This was one of the first experiences I recall that showed me just how present racism is in our society.
Racism is not biological, despite popular opinion. There is no physical evidence distinguishing one race from another. Rather, skin color, hair type, and other characteristics are present in people on a spectrum. All black people are not one skin color, and all asians don't have one hair type. As the article "Racial Formations" points out, race is a social concept, not a biological one. In the United States, racial ideas can be traced back to the slavery that was in place before the civil war. But in other nations, race has come about in different ways. An activity we did in class revealed that in different nations we would be characterized as different races. This is further evidence to support that race is not biological, because if it was we would all fit into a single category. But as an article in the packet pointed out, a simple plane ride can change your race, as race is based on how the people around you perceive you.
Within society, there is both explicit and implicit racism. Explicit racism is when people consciously believe that their race is superior to others. These are the types of people that wouldn't elect Barack Obama for president not because of his policies, but because he was not white. Implicit racism is when people subconsciously treat one another differently because of their race. Examples were present in the "White like Me" movie, where Tim Wise explained how domestic workers and farmers were excluded from unemployment benefits. These job skills were held predominantly by black people, so while the law didn't explicitly exclude blacks, it implicitly excluded them from benefits.
As a white female, I have never personally had to experience being discriminated against based on the color of my skin. When the student panel spoke, I saw that many of my classmates have to deal with hatred and ignorance on a daily basis. I will never have to worry about not getting a job because of my race, while some of my friends will. I hope that one day we progress to a society where no one has to worry about their race. But in order to do that, we have to change our way of thinking about the concept of race as a whole.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Social Class

Social class is a topic that is very important in people's lives. It determines where you live, how much you live off of, and it often determines the opportunities that you have in the future. Social class is often seen as a very sensitive topic, because we don't want to make assumptions about others based on the money they make. However, we have to acknowledge that money plays an important and direct role in determining our place in society.

I am a member of an upper middle class family. I live in a nice neighborhood, go to a nice high school, and my family does not have to worry about money on a day to day basis. We can also afford to go on vacation about once a year. However, I know that I am certainly not wealthy compared to all of my peers. When I started looking at colleges my junior year, my parents made it very clear that I could not attend any school just because I was accepted. Money is an important factor, especially if I do not want to be plagued with student debt after college. Some graduates have a hard time finding jobs in this economy, and are often stuck working minimum wage jobs that don't even relate to their degree.

In the article "Nickel and Dimed" that we read, it illustrated just how difficult it is for a person to live off of a minimum wage job. The author had to get a second job just to pay for all her expenses, and she had started with over one thousand dollars. This article also brought to light how people living in poverty, who are often labeled as "lazy", are some of the people who work the hardest each and every day.  These people are in poor living situations, don't eat healthy foods, and still work twelve hour days to make ends meet.

In class, we did a rigged Monopoly game in which it demonstrated the difficulty of intragenerational mobility. Intragenerational mobility is when someone changes social classes within their lifetime. It is extremely difficult, as the game illustrated, for the poor to move up because it is difficult to save enough money to affect any change. On the other hand, the wealthy do not struggle with saving money and therefore are better prepared if difficult circumstances occur.

Overall, this unit has taught me that social class is an issue prevalent in one of the richest countries in the world. In order to help the poor move up, we must provide them with opportunities to do so or else nothing will ever change.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Deviance

Throughout my entire life I have been described as "the good kid". I never get in trouble at school, rarely get in trouble at home, and rarely disrupt the world around me in general. Deviance is something I am familiar with as a topic, but not from personal experience. Someone is deviant when they repeatedly violate society's norms. Deviance is relative to both time and place. At Stevenson high school, it is deviant to not complete your homework, whereas at a public school in Chicago it is probably deviant to actually complete your homework.

Deviance is also largely based on the perceptions of those around you. After reading the "Saints and Roughnecks" article, I realized just how important perceptions are. The article talked about how wealthy, good students got in trouble but were seen as less deviant than the poor students that struggled with their grades, despite displaying the same or even less actual deviance. I then began recognizing it in my daily life. Students at my school who are consistently good and reliable often get a sort of free pass. If these students are missing homework one day, they can turn it in late for full credit. Other students, who are less consistent and not seen as the "perfect" student, often get deducted if their work is a day late.

The article, as well as the 30 Days in Jail movie, revealed that perceptions of deviance are largely related to socioeconomic status. Students that live in poorer districts are seen as more deviant than students who go to rich suburban schools. The jail movie showed how a disproportionate number of inmates are poor and often minorities. And our justice system has a very high rate of recidivism, meaning that once a prisoner is released from prison there is a very good chance s/he will end up back in prison. Instead of trying to tackle the root of the deviance issue, we simply lock up violators and hope they change on their own.

Though deviance has a negative connotation, it does not necessarily have to be negative. An example of positive deviance would be going up to a random stranger and telling them to have a good day. In our society, the norm is to not speak to strangers. So this kind action would still be considered deviant because it is against social norms. But by being deviant in this way, you may brighten someone's day. I therefore hope to be more positively deviant in my everyday life, and I believe that everyone could benefit from doing that. If we all act deviant in a positive way, our actions may no longer be considered deviant in the future.