Cat Gloria is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2017, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Journalism major at the University of Florida, she is studying abroad in Dublin this semester.
In this week's post, Cat tells us about single stories, and why we should put aside stereotypes before studying abroad.
Part of my CAPA study abroad program involves a three-credit internship class. The professor’s name is Darren, and he is not your run-of-the-mill teacher. In our very first class he showed us a picture of the world upside-down and explained that it isn’t really upside-down, it’s just the opposite of how we were trained to view it.
The next class he showed us a Ted Talk. It was a woman from Nigeria named Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who spoke and explained a concept that we don’t realize has become a theme in our lives: a single story. A single story is how we profile people and places around us. For example, growing up learning in an American school I learned that the countries of Africa are poor places with flat lands and lack of education. That was Africa’s single story in my eyes. This close-minded view that we form is based on books we read, lectures we hear and our very own families teaching us about the world.
But the truth is, not one continent, country or human being has a single story. Were shaped by numerous moments throughout our lives that make us into complex creatures. We aren’t single notes. So when I heard this I got to thinking about all of the single stories I’ve heard over the years. One of those single stories is about Ireland.
Photo: the city of Bray in summer.
I can’t lie, I never heard much about Ireland in my history classes. Most were focused on America and other parts of Europe of course. In my world history class we might’ve touched on it, but not nearly as in depth as China or Japan. What I did hear was that Ireland was a green land, with no cities, all small farming villages. The people are very pale; they all have red hair and wear mostly green clothes. They eat potatoes like we drink water. They came to America when they didn’t have enough potatoes left.
As sad as it is, growing up this is the picture that was painted of Ireland. Many things I learned might’ve been true, but there was so much more left unsaid. Ireland has a pretty impressive art scene. Not only a block away from my apartment is a lot where artists continually paint the walls, over and over, with beautiful murals. No one mentioned that. The people here have so many hair colors. From blonde, to black, to gray, and you’d think that would be pretty obvious, but yet we didn’t see it that way.
Photo: "I was walking through Phoenix Park", by CAPA student Alexa Padron.
So many cultures encompass Ireland. It’s not just the Irish here. There are people from all over here. Dublin is a city. Ireland has cities. There are small towns like what we’d heard of, but there are cities, too. Maybe it’s because I never left America until now, but I’ve always pictured other countries as what they taught us in school. I didn’t stop to think that the world is so much more than those stories.
Why do they teach us to see places in such one-noted ways? Why do we only read literature only from America and Europe? Whatever the case, I now know to see the world through my own eyes. I won't be able to describe Ireland in a single sentence, or describe anywhere or anyone in one sentence for that matter.
In college they teach us to be able to recite a description of ourselves called an “elevator speech” only thirty seconds long. But is that not giving us a single story? With the quick pace of our lives today it’s hard to sit down and get to know someone. But if you try, I’m sure you won’t be able to describe them in a sentence or a single story.
Cat's journey continues every Monday so stay tuned.