In Order to form a more perfect Union
July 2, 2017 5:58 PM   Subscribe

America, Meet America: Getting Past Our Toxic Partisanship (Amanda Ripley/WSJ)
Bringing back U.S. exchange programs could help remind citizens what we all have in common
They've never gone away (NSE is going strong), but in light of partisanship and cultural divides, the need and desire for common understanding and purpose has increased. AFS-USA is gauging interest in restarting their domestic exchange program, while new exchanges like the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange address cultural issues on different scales.

Breaking Down Rural-Urban Barriers (Shawn Poynter/Daily Yonder)
A partnership between two Kentucky-based arts organizers brings together folks from the state's three regions to break down regional borders.
posted by ZeusHumms (29 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
People interested in fleeing rural areas being able to do so seems less of an issue than If everyone's vote not counting the same depending on where they are, TBH.
posted by Artw at 6:42 PM on July 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

Great idea. I know the original idea of hosting foreign students and sending Americans abroad made a huge difference, in my family, anyway, where most of us had this experience, my mother was president of AFS-USA, and three of the six siblings ended up marrying people not white Americans like us. Why wouldn't bridging the urban/rural or coastal/flyover country divide be a good thing, with everybody trash-talking their fellow Americans these days?
posted by kozad at 7:34 PM on July 2, 2017 [13 favorites]

I was an exchange student to (then West) Germany in the late 80s, and went to college 1200 miles from my hometown and now live 2000 miles from my hometown. I meet people living here in Spokane, in the second largest metro area in the WA state, who have never driven from Spokane to Seattle. And my jaw drops open a bit.

I think any kind of exchange program that gets people away from what they are used to and living in another place long enough to learn how that place works is useful. It teaches people that what they know is not all there is to know.
posted by hippybear at 7:51 PM on July 2, 2017 [14 favorites]

You may have put the nail on the head of what feels so off about this, asides form it being pretty much a stealth version of the "both sides are alike/ sympathy for trump voters" article - generally city dwellers and democrats ARE people who have lived somewhere else, quite often the rural areas they are supposedly ignorant of.
posted by Artw at 8:14 PM on July 2, 2017 [54 favorites]

I've been wondering if GOP healthcare changes will lead to an exchange program of sorts, i.e. a migration of people with complicated healthcare needs from red to blue states.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:16 PM on July 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

"I meet people living here in Spokane, in the second largest metro area in the WA state, who have never driven from Spokane to Seattle. And my jaw drops open a bit."

In my (poor, urban) school district, slightly more than 50% of students have never been more than 8 miles from home.

This used to drop as they got older and the schools took them on field trips, sometimes to Chicago, or other cultural activities outside the county, but field trips are almost completely gone due to budgets now. A lot of kids only get to go outside the county at all if they play sports or in a club (debate, chess) that has away meets.

This stat was always stunning to me, and also sad, such an indictment of how stringently poverty limits opportunity in the US.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:35 PM on July 2, 2017 [34 favorites]

I, a queer person in a mid-sized city in the midwest, still have to go to work every day and be the token liberal while every other word out of the mouths of my coworkers turns into something that makes me feel unsafe. I'm not out at work for a reason. A coworker the other day wore a rainbow shirt to work and got openly mocked for it to the point where he talked about going home and throwing the shirt away. I'm really worried about my job being made a living hell if I come out at work. At the end of the day, I feel like they keep asking people like me to put ourselves out there for the sake of the greater good, and you know, I've spent my whole life just trying to get my life stable. The sorts of people who the rural community needs more empathy for, I can't imagine sending young people from those categories into those environments.
posted by Sequence at 8:41 PM on July 2, 2017 [50 favorites]

I'm out at work, but I don't interact with any of my coworkers much because it's all just a minefield. There are safe topics, but I rarely initiate a conversation that isn't directly related to the task at hand. I've been the bullied queer in too many workplaces at this point in my life to put myself out there in any real way. I am quiet, I am efficient, I am effective, and I don't give a shit about all the warehouse/office bullshit.

It's a fucked up way to live most of my life, but at least it doesn't feel like it's opening myself up to more bullshit than I want to handle.
posted by hippybear at 8:47 PM on July 2, 2017 [8 favorites]

In middle school I was part of an exchange trip in which we hosted a bunch of kids from Long Island in western Colorado and vice versa. It was a good experience. I would totally shoot over their heads in any future civil war.
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:47 PM on July 2, 2017 [11 favorites]

I was about to scoff, but then I realized my dad did a trip like this, coming from fundamentalist white Texas to South Boston in the early 60s. It changed his life, he's became an anti-racist and liberal beginning with that experience and has pretty much remained so ever since (with a bit more push from Army service). So.
posted by Miko at 9:50 PM on July 2, 2017 [9 favorites]

"but then I realized my dad did a trip like this, coming from fundamentalist white Texas to South Boston in the early 60s. It changed his life"

My grandfather had never left Chicago & environs until he joined the CCC (round about 1938 I think), and they shipped him off to Utah to build national parks and he was like "HOLY CRAP." Bit him with a travel bug that he had the rest of his life. He'd been to some naturalistic beaches along Lake Michigan for childhood holidays, but he'd never seen anything like the mountains and wide open spaces in the West. He took his own kids to the great American sites (Grand Canyon, etc.) and to the Canadian side of Niagara, but he didn't go abroad (other than Niagara) until he was 65 or so, and then he managed to visit every continent but Antarctica before he died. When I was in college he was 78 and e-mailing me from Kenya remarking that he was glad he'd done Africa while he was "still young" because it was a bit strenuous. In Australia they told him since he was over 80 he could bungee jump for free but his wife put the kibosh on that.

It's really important that people at least get to visit other places! You've gotta see stuff! You've gotta know there's more than just where you're from!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:39 PM on July 2, 2017 [21 favorites]

I mean, I get the skepticism, (especially framed as it is and we're all so sick of "urban bubble-dwellers need to understand Trump voters") but I think this is a really cool idea. I never did an exchange like this, but going to college in MN (from suburban Boston) was a really formative experience for me. The college itself was urban but the student body, while diverse and national/international, had lots of kids from small farm towns in Iowa and Wisconsin, many who became close (and in some cases, lifelong) friends.

I had already started to develop that particular Northeastern brand of parochialism (that somehow manages to seem cosmopolitan) but living in the midwest as a late teen and in my twenties pretty much wrenched that out of me. It was really shocking, when I moved back to Boston briefly, the ideas people had about the midwest. It was also eye-opening to visit my friends' small towns and see the ideas people there had about the east coast - or to have a kid with a Fargo-level accent ask me why I talked so weird. I'd never thought of myself as having an accent!

I don't know, it's a big country and it's really easy to only spend time in a small part of it. Think about how eye-opening this could be for some kids.
posted by lunasol at 12:47 AM on July 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

In my (poor, urban) school district, slightly more than 50% of students have never been more than 8 miles from home.

One of the many heartbreaking moments which stick with me from The Wire is the 16-year-old Wallace's return from the countryside to the Baltimore neighbourhood where he'll soon be murdered. "This is me, right here," he explains when asked why he came back. Those few deadly inner city blocks were all the world he'd ever known.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:49 AM on July 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Regional exchanges have great value. I grew up in the Midwest and went for a gap year right after high school in southwest France. I told all my French friends about how life in the US was. When I came back at the end of the year, I headed off to college in the upper South. And I realized that all I had told my French friends was not entirely true, that US culture differs quite a bit from one region to another. At the same time, I told all my college friends about life in France. You see where this is going?

A year later I went back to France, to the northeast corner this time, and realized "damn, I did it again, and I should have known better." Regions are important, and even if people adhere to national characteristics, regional characteristics allow for such a richness and layers to understanding a country. Now, I won't consider that I've "been to" a country unless I've visited its major city and at least one smaller town in a different region.
posted by Liesl at 7:14 AM on July 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Sort of the way Undercover Boss solved the problems of late stage capitalism then?

Because that worked.
posted by Naberius at 7:21 AM on July 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

No, exchange programs (domestic or international) are actually nothing like Undercover Boss.
posted by hippybear at 7:34 AM on July 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

This tweet from Amanda Ripley links directly to the WSJ article and gets around the paywall.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:42 AM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yet another argument for the institution of a US mandatory service/gap year.
posted by eclectist at 8:44 AM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, like Undercover Boss in the same way that design school is like Project Runway and dating is like The Bachelor. Why leave our houses at all when we have reality TV to explain the world to us?
posted by lunasol at 10:28 AM on July 3, 2017 [6 favorites] link to title story, because paywall.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 11:16 AM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

It must be that day..

Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker; America’s Future Is Texas
Texans, however, are hardly monolithic. The state is as politically divided as the rest of the nation. One can drive across it and be in two different states at the same time: FM Texas and AM Texas. FM Texas is the silky voice of city dwellers, the kingdom of NPR. It is progressive, blue, reasonable, secular, and smug—almost like California. AM Texas speaks to the suburbs and the rural areas: Trumpland. It’s endless bluster and endless ads. Paranoia and piety are the main items on the menu.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 11:53 AM on July 3, 2017

It's a good idea, but let's not pretend the problem is symmetrical.
posted by ocschwar at 12:06 PM on July 3, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm reminded of the excellent recent article "'Bipartisanship' Means 'I Don't Understand What Politics Is.'" Implicit in this hand-wringing about "toxic partisanship" is that it's better to keep an even tone than to have a just society; that rural and urban values and patterns of living are equally valid; that they are (in the end) compatible with one another; that the only problems that exist are those of communication and interpretation. None of these assumptions is valid.
posted by enn at 12:33 PM on July 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

It's a good idea, but let's not pretend the problem is symmetrical.

Which problem?
posted by atoxyl at 1:05 PM on July 3, 2017

posted by Artw at 1:27 PM on July 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm back in the small island town where I grew up for the 4th. It's the sort of place where there is only room for one or two of each of the basic things: coffee shop, psychiatrist, bar, nice restaurant, veterinarian, grocery. I am lucky that we had a number of exchange kids, some for several years, and that the Navy base types nearby were well traveled and pretty well educated. When I left for college on the East Coast, the rich 'urbane' kids there asked me if I a) owned the island or b) had electricity. They judged me pretty hard for wearing jeans (that were *Wranglers*. The horror!) and flannel.

While there are stupid assumptions on both sides of the rural/urban split, I see exchange as an opportunity to wake people up and rattle some of those assumptions your elders push on you and to send some good press/propaganda to the rural people, while teaching the city folk not to sneer so much.
posted by cult_url_bias at 4:25 PM on July 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

The very people who NEED to participate is such exchanges are the same ones who give me the side-eye when they learn I was an exchange student in high school. (CBYX-AFS 1987-1988, Germany) They're also the same ones who are openly hostile when they learn that I regularly host French exchange students (Cap Monde). At least, that's the way it is around here - and it's baffling to me, because Toledo is a University town, with an enormous international population.

I've long been of the opinion that foreign exchange should be mandatory. I'm more than willing to say ANY exchange should be mandatory - a month abroad or a month on the other side of the country, I don't care, but get our kids out into to the wider world, surrounded by people who have different lifestyles.

I promise, Trump supporters, I DO understand you. I used to BE like you, until I got my dumb ass educated, moved abroad to learn, then came home and got myself educated some more. The world is a crazy, interesting, amazing place. You'll be a lot happier and less frightened of every damned thing if you come on out and experience it.
posted by MissySedai at 5:09 PM on July 3, 2017 [7 favorites]

My hometown used to have an exchange where students from the "good" high school stayed with families whose children were students at the "other" high school, and vice versa. It was enlightening on both sides to see parts of town they had never been to and had never imagined, and yet were likely within 8 miles of each other. This ended in the 2000s because the parents who spearheaded it kept it up while their own children were in high school plus some years beyond, and no one was willing to pick it up when they were ready to hand it off.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 3:30 AM on July 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

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