Personal Background and Influences

I was raised in a middle class, military household, moving to a new location within the United States every few years. My parents were of the same race but were polar opposites when it came to religion; my father was raised in a middle class Jewish household in Los Angeles while my mother was more familiar with poverty and grew up as a Christian in Mount Vernon, Wisconsin. As a young child, I was fortunate to learn about both of my parents’ backgrounds, celebrating many Christian and Jewish holidays and was taught to appreciate the value of a dollar while living in a constantly changing environment. Neither of my parents believed strongly in their religions yet wanted to give me a taste of both of their cultures. This upbringing has had a significant influence on my thoughts and attitudes toward diversity in my adult life.

During my childhood, we moved frequently, exposing me to new places and living situations. I started my early life in Yuma, Arizona, Beaufort, South Carolina, Madison, Wisconsin, and finished high school in Boise, Idaho where my dad retired from the Marine Corps after twenty-one years of service. Each move brought forth new challenges and learning experiences that I still carry with me today. Our move to Madison, Wisconsin was the most challenging. My parents separated for a year at this time when my father was stationed in Okinawa, Japan. We sold our house in South Carolina and my mother and I drove up to our new home in the north. I was fascinated by the diverse differences in Wisconsin after living in South Carolina for several years. The food, clothing, and vocabulary had subtle differences, differences that if not picked up, would determine if I was an outcast in the second grade population at my new school. I found it challenging to connect with other students and was teased frequently. Being used to classes with a very low Caucasian population, I ironically felt out of place in a Wisconsin classroom. The new curriculum was more challenging and I struggled with math and reading, which my mother could not help me with at home. With each move, I found myself changing my personality and demeanor in each new living situation to fit into a new culture. These differing lifestyles instilled cultural and religious biases in me. I struggle with this as I am aware of these biases and am frustrated that I still stereotype other cultures and religions on occasion. For example, after our wedding, my husband and I moved to England. After a couple of years, we decided to move to Houston, Texas to be closer to some family. Prior to and shortly after our move I was concerned that we were moving to a place where much of the population may follow some of the commonly discussed Texas stereotypes, loving George W. Bush, oil, and that I’d be surrounded by a bunch of gun nuts. After living in Houston for almost seven years, I came to understand that this city is an international oasis containing a culturally diverse population with differing beliefs, customs, and attitudes toward politics. While I understood this prior to our move, I had to experience living there to get past my own biases towards that place.

My life in Houston has impacted me a lot and as I travel to new places, I am learning to understand the broadness of each culture rather than try place a label on them. As I pursue a new career as an educator, I have concerns with teaching about culture to children. I am trying to travel more and meet new people, reflecting on past experiences and trying to learn from them. I continue to observe my own biases, this example as well as others, and hope to learn from my mistakes. Another challenge I am embracing as a future educator is that it is important to recognize my mistakes so that I can learn from them. I am challenged with this continually and understand that this challenge is one of life skill as well as professional skill.

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One thought on “Personal Background and Influences

  1. You have had some rich, varied experiences and I appreciate your efforts to push aside your assumptions about a new place in order to really see what culture and life is like there. That continued skill will serve you well as you relate to your future students.

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