Branching Out

I’ve never been one to step out of my comfort zone, especially in social circles. If you were to look at my table during lunch you would see a bunch of senior girls who, for the most part, look and act the same. We are all pretty involved in school activities and hang out together on weekends. Whether it is Pacesetters or journalism we all have something in common. I love my friends and I wouldn’t change them for the world, but I can’t help thinking that I spend too much time around the same type of people. Our school brags about being diverse, but when I look around all I see are segregated clusters of various social groups.

It’s understandable that we want to spend time with people who share our same interests. Talking with someone who you have very little in common with can produce a painful amount of uncomfortable pauses. After you get past the first few conversational hiccups, however, you may come to discover a person that is truly worth knowing.

In one of my art classes I sat next to a girl who had just moved to Kansas from Mexico. She didn’t speak very much English and I spoke even less Spanish. For the first few weeks of class we scribbled in silence acting perfectly indifferent to one another, aside from the occasional stupefied smile. This began to bother me. I started to realize that even though we didn’t speak the same language, it was hardly okay to act like she wasn’t there. One day toward the end of class I used my level two Spanish skills (thank you Mrs. McDonnell) to ask her how her day had been. For the rest of class we managed to have a conversation in broken Spanglish. She was very patient with me and didn’t laugh when I added ‘o’ on the end of words like year, which is año not yearo.

Our conversation that day could have only lasted 15 minutes at most, but its impact for me has proved to be lasting. I can now talk, or try to talk, to her without feeling silly. While, it’s not always easy for us to understand one another it is worth the extra effort. Our fellow art student, who she introduced me to, has helped us greatly with his multilingual talents. Now I am able to add a few more words to my Spanish vocabulary while discussing Enrique Iglesias’ upcoming concert.

With four years of college ahead of me, I’m looking forward to having many similar experiences. The more I learn about the diversity of our school, the more I realize how much I managed to miss out on in the past three and a half years. If I had the information when I was a freshman that I have now, I am certain that I would have had a completely different high school experience.

I’m not saying that you should dump all your friends, or completely revamp your social life. I just think that sometimes our basic prejudices can keep us from having unique friendships. So next time you get the chance to meet someone who isn’t like you, take it. Sure she might not speak your language or shop at the same place, but I can guarantee you’ll have a new story to tell.

By Ellie Carter