Mar 31, 2017

Global Awareness

By Lori Draz and Katherine Bibilouri

Welcome to Teen Scene. Each month, our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry – let’s just get to sharing.

This month’s author is Katherine Bibilouri, a 16-year-old junior at Ranney School. As a daughter of immigrants from Georgia, Katherine has directed the cultural diversity she experiences in her home outwardly, to make a change in the awareness of all the people in her life. She is a member of Ranney’s Global Citizens Group, which engages regularly with youth leadership programs at the United Nations through unique school partnerships. She reminds us to consider the diverse and often difficult ways in which so many live around the globe and to be cognizant of the comforts and opportunities we have as Americans, and our responsibilities to the world. Here is Katherine’s story.

I am a first generation Georgian-American. Both of my parents immigrated to the United States after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in search of a better life. Along with my parents, my non-English speaking grandparents raised my siblings and me, forcing all of us to learn the language. My household embraced different customs. As a child attending American school, living in a Georgian household, I was granted the gift of duality in my upbringing, which allowed me to compare and contrast my cultural roots to my environmental roots. Growing up, my mother would tell me stories of being a teenager right after the collapse, and the intense economic, social, and political hardships in Georgia at the time. At age 13, she had to work to support her family.

“You would wake up in the morning and bread would be $10 and in the evening the price would already increase to $50,” she told me. With running water and electricity for only an hour a day and violence amongst citizens throughout Tbilisi, my mother grew up in conflict. Her stories definitely made me more conscious of global diversity as a concept, and the struggles my mother endured to bring my siblings and me to where we are now.

In 2008, there was a conflict between Russia and Georgia in the South Ossetia region. I was just eight, but I vividly remember watching the world news on channel 103 and discussing the war with my parents. The following days, I would go to summer camp and share personal insights about the war in Georgia with my counselors. There were all kinds of reactions, from shocked looks when they saw an eight-year-old discussing foreign politics to being told that Georgia was one of the United States and not a country. Georgia is the name of an independent country, as well as one of the United States. So, from age eight, I made it a point to educate people about Georgia, the country, and her customs and language.

Many times, we hear about poverty in the news, and consider it tragic for 10 minutes and continue on with our lives. In 2010, I visited Georgia for the first time. Aside from reuniting with family and friends and eating great food, I witnessed life outside of suburban New Jersey on a much more personal level. Socio-economic contrasts are much higher than in the United States. While walking on the street, I would see beautiful churches with histories longer than the existence of the U.S. while simultaneously witnessing babies lying on cardboard on the side of the street in the middle of winter. While my family and friends my age were playing, other kids our age were begging for money. When I saw a village for the first time, I was shocked. It never occurred to me how differently life treats some people. These memories inspired me to be an agent of change.

This summer, I was immersed in a global environment when I studied Conflict Resolution at Columbia University. I learned a lot from not just the coursework, but the cultural diversity of our small, close-knit classroom made up of students from Italy, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia. We studied conflict through a variety of perspectives, sharing personal stories and experiences, and examining larger scale global conflicts through different cultural perspectives. In this open environment, we mutually knew to respect one another’s point of view and broaden our minds.

This intense fascination of other cultures and foreign affairs led me to join Model UN as a freshman. From Model UN, I became a global citizen in my sophomore year and, as a junior, was able to visit the United Nations. Being surrounded by global activists from around the world is empowering, regardless of your age, race, or religion. I can confidently say that although teenagers from around the world live different lives based on their family, life circumstances, and upbringing, they have the power to work together and improve society. As the next generation, we have the right to build our future, as well as aid people suffering now.

My upbringing, education, and family and United Nations experiences have convinced me that I and other teens are completely capable agents of change. As an artist, I coordinate projects that bring global awareness to my community. When I meet someone new, I make sure they know Georgia is also a country as well as a state. I use social media to raise awareness, as well. Regardless of how big or small my message is, it has an impact. The same goes for you. Learn your culture, listen attentively, share your story, and make a difference.