An Outside Perspective on American History
Most nations have parts of their history that they aren’t proud of, but that define their national character. What does this history look like from the outside? Several exchange students from Europe joined a trip to Washington, DC, sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, on Martin Luther King Day. Now, in honor of Black History Month, two students share their experiences.
Marcus Wipperman, Germany
As an exchange student I was not very familiar with the history of Martin Luther King. The only thing I knew about him was that he played a leading role in the fight for black people’s rights. Seeing the importance of this historic event for the American people today was very interesting.
This trip to Washington was not only a sightseeing trip, but an insight in American history and feelings. As a German, I am very familiar with the dark sides of history in my own country (World War II). Therefore it was especially interesting to see how other nations cope with their dark side of history (bad treatment of black people).
This experience started right in front of the Admissions building at Lehigh University, where people were divided into categories and treated differently, depending on the category they were assigned. Through this experimental bus trip, we gained an insight into people’s lives in former times.
Not only was the past an important topic during the trip, but also the present. During conversations with others about topics like race, religion, etc. we gained an insight into their everyday lives and were able to see that there is still a lot of work to do to guarantee equal rights and equal treatment of everyone, no matter which race, religion, gender, etc. they belong to.
Astrid Klueter, Germany
Every exchange student at Lehigh has an America peer mentor. My mentor told me about the trip to Washington. It sounded fun, so I asked other exchange students to come with me. We were just hoping to go sightseeing, but I learned much about American history.
I had learned a bit about what happened in school, but not a lot. On the way down to Washington, we watched a film. Also, we were chosen to sit in the back of the bus. The other students were told to treat us badly. I got a feeling of what it would have been like to be a black American in the 1960s. It felt really bad. One of the students said it also felt bad to treat us poorly.
When you learn about this in school, it’s very theoretical. It’s something different when you actually feel it. We learned how it felt to be discriminated against. We learned about Martin Luther King, Jr., and visited the memorials.
His memorial has a lot of quotations about peace and not discriminating against people. I’m Christian—my religion is his religion and I believe what he believed. I can’t understand why people discriminate against each other.
February 14, 2013