At Gettysburg there are often lectures, discussions, and events centered around diversity. They applaud the many ways to have diversity and the best ways to share our diversity. This usually leads to the idea that coming from very different places and lifestyles we have different opinions, personalities, likes, and dislikes. We can utilize this diversity to grow by discussing it and getting to know those who aren’t like ourselves. So differences are good, and talking about them is even better. However, this doesn’t seem to be true in Kenya.
There are very different acceptable norms between cultures. I have realized that diversity in opinions is not as valued here as it is in America. This past week I had multiple conversations with my homestay family that showed me this. First, while watching the news a story came on about homosexuals. My host mom asked me how I felt about the issue. Based on the US standards I have liberal views. I am for gay marriage, and against all discrimination. I tried to word my views so that they sounded less liberal. However, this only led to an onslaught of questions and critiques as my host mom and dad tried to show me that this type of lifestyle is wrong. It only ended when I conceded to one of their questions to appease them. A few nights later my host dad asked me if I believed in miracle healings. He told me that before I left here he would make sure I unequivocally do.
Both of these times I felt that only my acceptance of the views common here would make others happy. I do not always like when people have different views than I do but the communities I have grown up in have taught me to appreciate them. When coming to Kenya I knew that I would experience many differences in the people, culture, and views. However, this is not a difference I was expecting to come across. People are usually excited to see me and talk to me because I am a foreigner. They want to hear about where I come from and my experiences, but if I share my opinions it’s offensive. And this stubbornness could potentially put a halt on all learning from each other.
In contrast to people not being completely open to difference of opinion I have found that Kenyans are much more quick to discuss others struggles or shortcomings. In community conversations between girls in the vocational training at KMET it seems natural for them to critique each other and receive critique in a positive way. This seems to also be true when people speak to each other. In the US everyone is careful not to say hurtful things which causes us to hold back questions we might otherwise ask. In Kenya this worry doesn’t seem to exist as strongly. People talk openly about their hardships or things they are trying to improve. This I believe helps increase the learning between everyone here.
Alexandra Siegel ’16