Ways of seeing: U.S. has problems, but also love

Two weeks after I left America for a study abroad program in Sydney, Australia, 14 students and three staff members died in a shooting in Parkland, Fla. Ten thousand miles away in sunny, coastal New South Wales, I saw every media outlet in uproar, broadcasting the news of yet another tragedy. Ten thousand miles away, I felt the tremors of unspeakable anguish rippling out from my hurting homeland. Ten thousand miles away, that was what Australians were hearing about Americans.
I’m currently attending Kirrawee High School, in the Sutherland Shire of Sydney. As a foreigner, I get asked a lot of questions. The first few are usually about Australia, “Do you like Australia? Have you had a Tim Tam?” or “Do you think our accent is funny?” But that’s not what they really want to know, and soon they ask the real questions. “Does everybody have guns where you’re from? Are you scared of school shootings? Do you have lockdowns and drills for them?”
When people ask me if I am scared at school in America, it is hard to give a straight answer. I go to school with my friends, I know my classmates and teachers and I feel comfortable. Homework and lunch are usually what’s on my mind. That’s reality, but at the same time, the reality is also that students and teachers are dying in America, in an up swinging trend of terror that can’t be ignored.
So what I explain to them is this. As a child, I had two main fears: monsters in my closet, and scary men with guns. At the time, those fears were considered irrational — they were the fears of a silly five-year-old, completely illegitimate.
The problem is that one of them became rational. The once childish fear of a random guy shooting me is no longer childish — it aged with me, it grew into an occurrence. It became a fact of our country, one that has taken lives, torn apart families, and shocked communities. My Australian classmates listen raptly, shaking their heads, trying to understand.
They have more questions, too, about America. About gun laws, and black men being shot, about racism and hate, about the KKK, about politics and division, about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, about the presence of Islamophobia and the building of the wall. So many questions, and I do my best to answer each one.
But at the end of the conversation, when I have satiated their curiosities on the mess that our country is, I also tell them this: America is so full of love. I know this because I have experienced it every day of my life growing up in South Lincoln, Vt.
I’ve felt it in the nod of passing hikers on Sunset Cliffs, from the laughter of kids swimming in Garland Bridge, and the shout of teens jumping from the rocks at Bartlett Falls when Mt. Abe lets out in the afternoon. I know it because of the greetings from my neighbor Harriet when I see her at the library, from the warm smiles of the Lincoln General Store’s ever present group of men, and the smells of dinner at my sister’s house on the Gap.
I know America is wonderful because of my friend Althea with her wild giggle and how easy it is to talk to her, and all my other lovely friends who live in America. I am so grateful to all of you, because when people here ask me about my country, I can tell them that America is full of beautiful people. Warm, friendly, adventurous, accepting, loving people.
I’m not trying to tell Australians that America is fine, that everything’s good and we have no problems. We do, and I would never deny it. But I want these people on a different continent, in a different hemisphere, who only read our news and see hate and division, to know more than what tragedies made the headlines that day.
I’m not trying to convince Australians that America is perfect, I’m just making sure they know there’s so much more than what they hear. There’s you guys. I know that, and now they do, too.
Leeya Tudek is a seventeen-year-old student from South Lincoln. She enjoys painting, writing, and being outdoors, and is currently studying abroad in Australia.

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