Breaking stereotypes

by Daniel Alexander

In this blog post, Ian Fields, born and raised in Williamson, West Virginia elaborates on how important is for our community partners in Appalachia to welcome groups of students from different places such as the Fulbright-Amizade volunteers. He’s assistant to our Appalachia site director Nate Siggers, and has collaborated with many programs by sharing his knowledge on the region. Thanks for your story, Ian.

Being an isolated town in Central Appalachia, Williamson does not receive as many international visitors as other destinations in the country. This is especially true about students. Many residents here would consider the opportunity to meet someone from overseas to be rare. The exchange of information that takes place during their time spent here is profoundly positive. With that being said, the experience itself is one of a kind for even myself as a lifelong resident of Williamson. Being able to have an opportunity to interact with the Fulbright-Amizade volunteers, sharing the truth of our community in a setting that creates an honest conversation.

Ian Fields coordinates volunteers on gardening at the Staars Family Farm.

This helps to produce the beautiful ideas that are generated through the discussions about our issues in the community, and the solutions we are developing to handle them. While you may notice and be intrigued with all of the differences coming from all corners of the earth, I think one of the most significant results through this is in realizing how similar we all are. Comprehending these similarities, people are much more inclined to empathize with one another. I like to think of this outcome as creating a sense of global comradery that is carried on after their time here.

It is undeniable that Appalachia has faced its fair share of social and economic issues. On the other hand, we are a part of a socially conscious, and reformative generation. Global service learning inevitably benefits the people of our community to have a voice in other parts of the world. When they arrive, it is evident that like anyone else going anywhere new, especially abroad, they are aware of the perceived stereotypes. But once they arrive, it is delightful to see how quickly those myths dissipate. Appreciating Williamson, and Appalachia for what it is; a beautiful, vibrant place, full of resilient and hardworking people. I believe this is one of the most critical outcomes of international students visiting Williamson that the people here are seen for who they are, not for whom they have been portrayed to be.

The Staars Family welcomes the Fulbright-Amizade volunteers to their farm.

Upon leaving here, these students have entirely different platforms. They can share the stories of their time spent here in their homes, on their social media, and even in day to day conversation with their families and peers. Simply starting a conversation can be a catalyst for change. This is an essential factor in solving many of the problems that people here face, spotlighting the issues on a larger scale. In true Appalachian form, residents here are always open and willing to accept new people, embracing the student’s every time they visit. We are eager to talk about our stories and experiences, and thankful that the students are as well.

Dive into The Heart of Appalachia, a storytelling project developed in partnership with The Fulbright Program. Watch their videos here.