Ignorance is not bliss

America is one great big melting pot of culture and diversity. With so many different people with diverse backgrounds, you’d think Americans would be knowledgeable about foreign customs and other people’s ways of life. Sadly, this is not always the case.
For Bradley students wanting to get their Bachelor of Arts degrees, two years of foreign language are required unless they are able to test out. While some might take this as a great opportunity to learn about other cultures and expand their knowledge, most students I’ve run into have nothing but bad things to say.
Learning a foreign language might not be directly relevant to your major or what you plan to do in life, but you can’t deny that you could someday benefit from this experience. Even if you never speak a word of Spanish or French again after graduating from Bradley, it really can’t hurt you to know another language.
Maybe someday in the distant future having that skill will actually be helpful. It could be the deciding factor in getting a job you applied for, or maybe you’ll end up being transferred to a foreign city where your knowledge is useful.
Even if it ends up being totally useless, at least you’ll have expanded your knowledge a bit and added some culture to your life.
One argument I can’t stand is when people say they shouldn’t have to learn a foreign language because English is the primary language of the United States, and they shouldn’t be forced to learn another language simply because the country has let in more Spanish-speaking people. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in European countries such as France and Germany, students are taught different languages at a young age, and English is definitely a requirement for them. Therefore we can’t complain we should change our ways, because we can’t expect the world to adapt to us while we remain ignorant to their cultures.
It’s actually insulting that we believe every other country should adapt to us while we continue to be consumed by our own problems and issues and are indifferent to them.
What is even more negative is the stereotype we have created for ourselves as a nation.
This past year, I met a transfer student from the Middle East. We started to talk about his home life and what it was like moving here. It was interesting to see how different he was compared to the average student growing up in the U.S. He already knew a handful of languages, English being his second language since it was required through his school, while most people my age barely know the basic laws of English grammar.
He has travelled to several different countries, a big difference from the people in my hometown, most of whom had never even been on a plane.
The thing that annoyed me the most was the perception he had of all Americans. He felt we were all poorly educated regarding geography and the only thing Americans could point out on a map would be their own country.
Whenever he told stories about living in the Middle East, people were surprised it was no longer a desert wasteland with people travelling around on camels and living in tents.
Just because its not America or Europe doesn’t mean it’s a third world country in dire need of help. We’re not the only thriving civilization on this planet.
In a class I took over the summer, my professor revealed to us the results of a poll taken by American school teachers this past year. One of the questions was to name an important Middle Eastern figure in history.
What was the number one answer?
Aladdin.
That’s right, the people we pay to shape and develop the future of our nation could only think of a cartoon character.
It’s pretty depressing when you think about how big the world is, and so many of us remain wrapped up in our own lives without regard to other nations out there.
I don’t want to be a hypocrite – I certainly don’t know 50 different languages and I haven’t travelled the world twice over. But I have been out of the country numerous times, I do know three languages and I really do want to learn more about other cultures.
All I’m asking is for everyone to show a little more enthusiasm. Of all the classes you’re required to take, these are ones that you might be able to really take something from.
I’m tired of America being labeled as the ignorant country that thinks it knows what’s best, and I hope everyone else is tired of it too.
Annabelle Vang is a sophomore journalism major from Pekin. She is a Scout copy editor.
Direct questions, comments and other responses to avang@mail.bradley.edu.