Last weekend, our group went to Opal Creek, a wilderness and scenic recreation area known for its many hiking trails and crystal-clear swimming holes (which are quite nice if you don’t mind swimming in 40° water). During our time at Opal Creek, we reflected on privilege, entitlement, and how the two affect our lives. We talked a lot about how some privilege is obvious (race/gender/wealth) and some is hidden (supportive friends and families). Some is acknowledged (we all go to Duke, after all); some is never thought about (do you ever think about your ability to walk or talk?).
As I reflected back on DukeEngage Portland and my traveling experiences in the last year, I thought more and more about what privilege means to me and how it has affected me. When I first learned about privilege, I realized that being white, cisgender, heterosexual, and able-bodied has given me an unfair advantage in life. However, the last year has shown me that I also enjoy other forms of privilege that are discussed less often.
For example, last week, I tried to apply to an amazing research grant that would have allowed me to spend nine months in Southeast Asia. However, my excitement for this opportunity quickly faded when I read through the application requirements: “Native speakers only” (and of course, a long list of essay questions that further discouraged a procrastinating victim of senioritis). “Yes, but why does that matter?” you may ask yourself (or not). Well, let me tell you anyways, my fellow DukeEngage blog enthusiasts: this is the first time that being born in a different country has truly impacted my goals and plans for the future.
As I write this, I immediately recognize the tremendous privilege that my nationality (and my experiences associated with it) carries. When my family and I moved from Germany to the U.S. in 2006, nobody referred to us as illegal immigrants or accused us of stealing their jobs. When I applied for my American citizenship last year, I received my new passport within three months. Last semester, while I was studying abroad in Vietnam (another privilege), numerous people there complained about the long and tedious visa application process for the U.S. (to put this into perspective, it took me five days to get my visa for Vietnam). While I was in Morocco, Trump implemented his travel ban (and continued planning the construction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico). And of course, when Americans travel to any foreign country, they are able to communicate in their native language, but when foreigners travel to the U.S., they are told to “speak English!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
However, not only has this grant application pushed me to further reflect on my “passport privilege” (© Jana, patent pending), it has also prompted me to question the idea of “home.” Thanks to my 5th grade teacher, Junie B. Jones books (100% sure that these books taught me 99% of the English I know), and my young age, I was able to learn English without a major accent (unless I get nervous, talk a lot, or have to pronounce “salmon”). On the other hand, when I went back to Germany to visit my extended family two years ago, I was actually told that I spoke German with an American accent (or just simply switched over to English without realizing it). And yet, English isn’t my native language; German is.
So at what point did the U.S. become my home? When I first moved here? When I started school and established a daily routine? When I made my first friend (who I could actually talk to without a translation app)? Also, what is home anyways? I consider my mom’s house to be my home, but I’ve only spent two nights there in the past year (if you’re reading this, sorry mom!). I also consider Duke to be my home (and yet I get nervous every time I think about going back there at the beginning of next semester). And lastly, this summer, I consider Portland to be my home (which obviously comes with its own set of reflection questions). Most importantly, why am I allowed to call Portland my home, when thousands of Portlanders (Portlandians?) are currently being pushed out of their homes and their neighborhoods and their city because of rising rent prices and gentrification??
If you’re reading this, thanks for sticking through the end with me and stay tuned for more existential crisis as I quickly approach my senior year of college (and adulthood??).