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Davis, California

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Column: Touchy topics

People are different, and those differences are interesting. That’s what I’ve been trying to convey in my columns the past eight weeks. This column will cover issues that are more sensitive than usual, but it will still continue to explore how different American society is, and how other exchangees and I try to adapt to or simply understand it.

Anywhere you go, discussions on the topics of religion, race and sexual orientation are not common and always awkward. But after I arrived in the U.S., I noticed that I desperately need such discussions since these concepts are understood very differently here than in Lithuania or the UK.

Consider religion. I come from a country where the majority of people call themselves Roman Catholics. The truth is that for most of them it doesn’t mean much; they go to church once in a while, but only to keep the grandmothers happy. I myself admire churches from outside, but I found the inside too stuffy and stale.

Here, religion is a whole other story. I’m surrounded by so many deeply religious young people, and that’s completely new to me. It would be very easy to say that it’s weird and silly, and that some people take religion way too seriously. But I also find it intriguing, all these young faces in a church really wanting to be there. I admit that it’s still hard for me to understand it. But as long as there are no attempts of conversion, which actually happened on campus once, I’m trying my best to be open-minded.

That doesn’t always work, though. Back in February, I participated in one of the Meals with Mrak events. At the very end of the breakfast, someone raised a question about having exams on Saturday. I didn’t see this as an issue at all and proclaimed that the university, just like the state, should be separate from religion.

While I still believe that, I could have been more understanding. Afterward I was ashamed of being such an ignorant ass, over-praising us Europeans with our “rational” ways and “judgment” unclouded by religion. In reality, nothing is simply black or white, and we’re all entitled both to our opinion and to the ways we observe (or don’t) religion.

The question of race is another thing that I’ve never known how to talk about, mostly because I grew up in an entirely white society. Yet even without the presence of other groups, prejudices still existed and were somehow imparted to me. How else could you explain me not having a single close black friend even after moving to more diverse countries? Of course, this isn’t some kind of game, you know, collect friends of all colors. But I wish I had taken the opportunity to expand my social group.

I had never experienced that tension that exists here between different groups, which I find to be very apparent. Being here now, I struggle with not knowing how to act or what to say so that not to offend anyone. These are things I never even had to think about before I came to the U.S.

Since coming here, I’ve also definitely learned more about people of different sexual orientations. I’m amazed how open this society is to gays, especially considering how prevalent religion is. Maybe in Lithuania it’s only so different because it’s a Catholic country. Sexual orientation is definitely a touchy topic, but at least now people are talking about it, which I think is only for the better.

As for myself, I didn’t even know a single gay person before I came to Edinburgh to study. Now I’m much more comfortable with the notion of homosexuality, but I definitely still need some growing to do. Despite that, I think that everyone has a right to be what they want and with whomever they want. California, in particular, is a prime example of how this is becoming more of a non-issue. Hopefully, we’ll have that in Lithuania someday, too.

I have to admit, this was the most difficult column to write — trying to be honest, both to myself and everyone else. Tackling these sensitive topics wasn’t easy, but in the process, I learned a lot, and it was worth it.

You can contact KRISTINA SIMONAITYTE at ksimonaityte@ucdavis.edu.


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