For the vast majority of us, Hopatcong is a comfortable, however uneventful, place in which to live. There is little to do besides going to the park or visiting a friend’s house. A sense of diversity is rather uncommon in the town we call home, except for a minority of people of various backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, and so on.
Unfortunately, diversity is not something which can be fully taught in schools. We must be exposed to individuals different from us in order to understand diversity. This spring break I took the opportunity to travel to Slovakia, my home country, and experienced something “different.” Although Slovakia itself is less accepting of differences, the experience of travelling opened my eyes to the need of worldwide acceptance and understanding. Ultimately, I would recommend travelling to all my peers, especially as they get ready to enter the adult world.
To leave America in the evening and wake up on a different continent is breathtaking. The sun sets shortly after takeoff and rises a little before landing, bringing new and totally different experiences with it. An additive plus is the fact that intercontinental flights actually offer a meal. Although my flight was seven hours, walking out of the airport after baggage claim brought me to a morning of a new and different world.
Getting to Slovakia from Krakow airport was so exciting. The scenery of Slovakia is out of a fairytale. Chains of mountains, fields of grass, and cities with historical architecture are the sights to be seen. Nothing feels more liberating than to walk in the countryside or in a big city of another country. As I viewed a landscape of both a new and bygone world, I immediately realized how “young” America actually is.
In the United States, we are used to big cities and forests. However, a lot of our land has been “used up” by large corporations and has lost its natural beauty over the years. Our homes are often made from cheaper and less enduring material, making me realize that America does not, and cannot, hold the same antiquity as Europe. Our factories have misused landscapes and caused landfill. In Europe, however, the land remains genuine and untouched.
Slovakia is a small landlocked country in central Europe, with a generally homogenous population of 5.5 million people. The culture of Slovakia, as with many other European countries, is adopting an “American” lifestyle, which includes an American style of clothing, food, and recreation. It’s common to see “thug-type” younger generation apparel. As far as food is concerned, I witnessed, firsthand, a Slovakian McDonald’s. Although the food was somewhat different, the fries of course, were the same. In my travels to Slovakian KFC, however, the menu actually included tiramisu, coffee, and mozzarella sticks. There were times in my travels that I felt as though I had never left America. And yet, other facets of the travel screamed otherwise.
Slovakia still retains traditional cultural values and beliefs, particularly with the older generations. Religion is still an immense part of everyday life for the people of Slovakia, as is a conservative approach to politics. Due to the fact that Slovakia is mostly homogenous, there is not much room for diversity and acceptance of it. When I looked at political polls online in Slovakia, I found homosexuality is not readily accepted. I also realized that Slovakia suffers from Islamic phobia and a general a lack of acceptance of the difference of others.
In contrast, western European nations such as Germany, France, Great Britain, etc. are more tolerant because of the large population of minorities that reside there. However, perhaps some of us have heard the expression “change is coming” before in our lives. Individuals of young generations worldwide have a different mindset than individuals of older generations. I even saw this in my home country of Slovakia.
The experience of traveling to a different part of the world gave me a wealth of what I call wisdom. It opened my eyes to the fact that people of this world are different in many ways, yet so similar in others. If similarity is constant, one would hope that diversity is natural. I feel that the more we travel and see other countries, the more we will be willing to accept others no matter what background. I thank my country of Slovakia and my family for giving me this gift.