Ukraine – What I Learned

Visit my posts about days 1 and 2 if you haven’t already and want this one to make more sense.

I’m finding it difficult to put what I want into words (which is probably largely due to the fact that I’m watching Vlogbrothers videos while attempting to articulate all of the things – actually, just one of the things – that I learned while in Ukraine), but I’m going to try anyway.

Back in my post about day 1, I briefly talked about the discussion we took part in with Ukrainian university students. One of the main things that I took away from this, is that America seriously needs to reform public education standards, which of course I know is easier said than done, and there are arguably more important things that should be focused on. However, upon beginning my college education this past fall, I have discovered just how many gaps in my knowledge my public education has left me with. More specifically, in my knowledge of history. Yes, I obviously know the basics and general ideas and have a greater understanding of the 20th century than any other time period because it is the most recent; although, throughout high school, I spent the least time learning about the past 100 years which in my opinion is odd because it arguably has the greatest and most noticeable impact on my life today. Even in my first semester of college, in my history class, my professor accidentally left World War II out of the syllabus. Like, how can you just forget about World War II?

American students are going to learn about American history and English students are going to learn about English history and Ukrainian students are going to learn about Ukrainian history which obviously makes sense. You should learn about your own country’s history. But looking back on what I do know and learned in high school, I have discovered that we not only just learn about American history, but when learning about what is called world history, we only learn about those events that are relevant to America and I have a problem with that. Yes, after World War II America was the most powerful nation in the world, but that doesn’t mean us, as Americans, should be ignorant enough not to learn about the rest of the world (because, believe it or not, other countries do exist and are important socially and economically). For example, while learning about WWII, not once was Ukraine or the famine ever mentioned, even in my history class last semester. I am embarrassed to say that until I took this class, I had no idea Stalin systematically starved millions of people. I am embarrassed at how little I know about the social impact of anything that happened in Europe during the 1900s, or ever (with the exception of Germany before, during, and after WWII, but only because it was somewhat relevant to America).

Americans live in a bubble. A safe and privileged bubble. And many Americans (more specifically, those in my generation) do not recognize the fact that they live in this new and isolated bubble. I know that personally, I have an extremely hard time wrapping my head around the amount of time that European nations and empires existed. America does not have nearly the same level of history that basically any nation east of us does. Living in this bubble and learning about only that which effects or poses a threat upon this bubble causes huge gaps in the knowledge of young Americans, which in the long run can mean that we are not aware of the privilege we are blessed with.

I am grateful for the opportunity to fill those gaps in my knowledge and become self aware of the privileged life I have grown up with, but I wish I didn’t have to wait until I was paying for an education to learn these things. When we learn about the Holocaust and Hitler, we are not taught about Stalin and how he preceded the Nazi’s “final solution” with the famine in Ukraine. Until this class, I couldn’t tell you the difference between Left and Right politics and how they can be seen in America today. I think one of the reasons that a staggering number young people (myself included), are misinformed or uninterested about current events and issues. For example, having not taken this history class while abroad, I never would have had the understanding of the current conflict in Ukraine that I do now because I had the chance to learn about Ukraine’s history. In order for other people I know to have the same amount of knowledge about the same topic, they would have to take the initiative to educate themselves.

Part of public education in America is graduating from high school with the same set of skills and knowledge that everyone else does. I think that rather than relearning the same things in school year after year, high school should be more focused on educating Americans about World history and conflicts, and not just that which effects America. I think it’s important that the younger generations do not grow up to discover this same gap in their knowledge that I have. I hope American public education in the future will be  more inclusive of all important events throughout history and not just those that had an effect on America.

~Sarah Ann

My Last Post: Ukraine – Day 2

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