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What I Learned at the UVSC Bus Stop

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 21, 2008

I’m easily annoyed. I know it, and I often try to fight it, to eliminate it for my own peace of mind or at least to hide it from others as a contribution to the general welfare. Sometimes a good eye roll, though, is such a relief!

I’m also at an age when I find college-aged people to be alternately annoying and wonderful. Sometimes I wonder how these great kids have managed to turn out so much better, so much kinder, so much more thoughtful than their parents, and other days I wonder why their parents let them live. Did I say I’m also prone to extremes?

When I commuted home to Orem from Salt Lake, I used to have to transfer buses at the UVSC stop – the place that is now Utah Valley University. (That’s another annoyance. Did you know that if you went to school there back when it was a trade-tech that taught nothing more advanced than changing spark plugs, you can request a new diploma with the new school name, making it appear as though you had earned a university degree?) The stop was always filled with students, most of them Asian kids living in an apartment complex across the road.

Those kids annoyed me. I don’t know where they were from or what language(s) they spoke, but they never spoke English. They laughed a lot, too. It’s not unknown for people my age to be so egotistical and paranoid as to fear the kids were talking about me. Annoying.

They also wore flip-flops, dragging them annoyingly along the ground so that no matter how they quickened their pace or lengthened their stride, some part of their footwear was always scraping the sidewalk. It was such uniform behavior that I guessed it was a purposely cultivated cultural habit – but, by golly, my mother had ingrained in me the habit to “pick up your feet!” and the scraping of those flip-flops was annoying. Annoying, I tell you.

9/11 happened while I was still commuting. In the earliest days afterward, there was some uncertainty as to how Americans would treat foreigners in response. Although I understand there were too many instances of anger against innocent Muslims (American as well as foreign), that ugliness seemed to pass quickly in light of the genuine sympathy offered by so many nations. Will you ever forget the picture of all those British sailors lined up on the deck of their naval vessel, holding an American flag and saluting American sailors on a passing ship?

A few days after 9/11, somebody promoted the idea of everybody dressing in red, white and blue on a certain day. I didn’t join in – that’s not the way I’m made. But I did see quite a few people wearing red, white and blue that day.

Including every Asian kid at the UVSC bus stop.

I remembered that this morning when I read this story in the Christian Science Monitor. The writer is an American who had been studying Chinese at Sichuan University in Chengdu when the earthquake hit. She contributed clothing to the relief effort and sympathy to the general atmosphere, and she joined in the three minutes of silence a week afterward, choosing a site on the university campus where she was surrounded by her colleagues.

Usually on a Chinese campus, a foreigner draws some attention. Those who speak English will shyly approach for a hoped-for chat. A few will look and whisper, poking one another to go talk to the person from overseas.

But this time, I had become a part of China. We all knew the solemnity of this occasion. We were all connected. There was no desire to single out one of us as being any different from the other.

In the distance, an emergency siren started its three-minute wail. Cars parked nearby joined in with a steady, constant blaring of their horns.

The students bowed their heads. No one moved. No one spoke. We just stood, thinking of those who had lost their lives, their loved ones, their homes, and their entire communities in a single moment.

As the three minutes came to a close, the sirens faded. Car horns ceased blaring. Some students filed forward, taking turns at placing their paper carnations or fresh flowers at the foot of the Chinese flag.

With the ceremony over, I made my way home. The campus walkways provided a pleasantly shady journey under arched trees and along quiet roads, giving me some time for thoughtful reflection.

I know that the heaviness still felt by all of us can’t be wiped away with a few minutes of national silence. Yet, walking back through the campus on that Monday, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe, just maybe, our shared moments together had placed us on a quicker path to healing.

Shared silence. Or the choice to wear red, white and blue clothing.



16 Comments »

  1. I was surprised that you were annoyed because they were speaking another language. Xenophobia, for sure. It made me think of a friend of mine who was studying abroad in Spain, and while she was talking to a friend at the bus stop, someone just came up to her and punched her in the face!

    What makes someone American? Aren’t most Americans people whose ancestors came from a different country anyway? America is supposed to embrace these differences, but instead we Otherize those who don’t fit the standards of dominant culture. Sad story.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — June 21, 2008 @ 12:39 pm

  2. Um, I hope it is clear that ultimately this post is not xenophobic, that it’s about looking past superficial cultural traits to a shared humanity, especially in times of great sadness. It’s *what I learned at the bus stop,* after all.

    When I was a missionary in France, my districts and I generally followed the instruction drummed into us at the MTC to speak French when we were in public, even among ourselves. The discomfort of not understanding what is happening near you is not unique to English-speaking Americans, but is common to most if not all cultures — witness your friend’s experience in Spain. As we mature we cope better and behave better, but as long as that growth comes I don’t find it appropriate to apologize for an inborn, universal human trait.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 21, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

  3. This actually made me reflect about how I feel in the temple. I can tend to get annoyed over little things, too, and somehow being in the temple where everyone is wearing basically the same thing, and we aren’t distinguished by our styles or cars or jobs or even personalities as we are in our day-to-day lives. There is a sense of unity as we are all there, taking the time out of our busy lives to worship, serve, and make covenants.

    I think it’s kind of a sad commentary on human nature that it takes tragedy to bring us together in that kind of unity. Makes my mind go to Helaman 12.

    Probably all a bit of a sidetrack from your original post, but that was where my mind went when I read it — the power and potential of unity, the places and times when we might feel that, and the relative rarity of it because of our natural-man tendencies.

    Comment by m&m — June 21, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

  4. Tolerance of each others’ differences is one of the most important lessons we can learn. I teach my children to be tolerant of each other. I learn it just being married. And the differences do not have to be ethnic or linguistic.
    On a tangent, for part of my mission I served in a once Portuguese colony called Macau. It has now been returned to China. But while I was there I went to the library looking for some books in English to use in the free English classes we taught. The librarian I met was from Portugal and spoke no English. We ended up communicating in our common second language, Cantonese. It made me aware of just how frequently I would fall back into English when I could.

    Comment by BruceC — June 21, 2008 @ 9:08 pm

  5. Now don’t laugh at my following mundane contribution, Ardis, even if it sounds like a thread jack (to me, it is not). My experience yesterday was cross-denominational, rather than cross-national. I should explain first that I was born with lousy teeth. They are not crooked, just vulnerable, so I have spent much of my life in dentists’ chairs, and am no more afraid of the drill than the barber’s scissors. This means that I get to know dental people pretty well.

    JoAnn is a dental assistant who has seen more of the inside of my mouth than I have, during the past seven years or so. She is a rather quiet and unassuming woman of middle age, neither striking nor unattractive. After two MORE crowns were added to my impressive collection yesterday, JoAnn brightened uncharacteristically and asked,

    “Did I tell you I’m going to Bosnia soon on vacation?” Her face betrayed pure but quiet joy.

    “You did, but you didn’t say why Bosnia, in particular. Do you have ancestors from that region?”

    “No, but I have been so interested in the appearance of the Blessed Mother there. I know of one man who has gone seventy-five times. He was an alcoholic until he made the pilgrimage.”

    There was something so genuine in JoAnn’s manner, so sincere without being pushy or pretentious, that it completely melted my heart. I am not one to have any respect for Mary visions, but I truly, truly, hope JoAnn has a “blessed” experience in Bosnia.

    Tonight, while channel-hopping after dinner, I came upon some evangelical revival in Florida. I watched the people raise their arms, entranced, mouthing the words to the new-age hymn. And for the first time, I did not completely disdain or disrespect them. All because of JoAnn’s humble, genuine, simple faith.

    So that’s what I learned in the dentist’s chair.

    Comment by Rick Grunder — June 21, 2008 @ 9:20 pm

  6. Just started reading, so I’m not at the actual point of the post yet, but I just have to respond to the following:

    “(That’s another annoyance. Did you know that if you went to school there back when it was a trade-tech that taught nothing more advanced than changing spark plugs, you can request a new diploma with the new school name, making it appear as though you had earned a university degree?)”

    ????????????????????

    There – back to the post.

    Comment by Ray — June 21, 2008 @ 9:25 pm

  7. m&m beat me to it with #3. When I read, “Shared silence” in the context of multiple cultures and ethnicities, I immediately thought of the temple. I love that both Adam/Eve and the Lord can be any color with any accent in that shared silence.

    Perhaps it takes hardship and tragedy to unite the natural man, but it doesn’t have to be.

    Comment by Ray — June 21, 2008 @ 9:31 pm

  8. Thanks for every one of these comments and stories. I’m working on patience and respect and will only count myself successful when it comes in the dentist chair and at the library and at the bus stop and without the impetus of tragedy. Thanks for pointing out that I can draw on the temple experience for a model. This is another aspect of temple training that needs to be carried along once I’m back in street clothes and faced with everyday chaos, and backslide from my own best behavior.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 21, 2008 @ 9:55 pm

  9. Ardis, great post. I get picked up from that bus stop everyday, and I think I know exactly who you are talking about. I share in your learning experience.

    Side note: I thought only those who attended UVSC in the last 4 years could get updated degrees? I could definitely be mistaken, however.

    Comment by Ben — June 22, 2008 @ 8:56 am

  10. Ben, I’m going by a 9 March 2008 article in the Deseret News,, “UVSC Offers a Diploma Upgrade.” It costs $25, and applies to “Utah Valley State College — or any of the vocational, trade or tech schools from which the college emerged.” Those who graduated before 1985 might have to contact the registrar by phone, since they might not be in the computer system. They know exactly what they’re doing with this version of the diploma mill, too, as demonstrated by a quoted comment from student Travis Thompson: “People see a university as something with more credentials than a college,” Thompson said. “It’s status.”

    But I’m trying not to be annoyed.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 22, 2008 @ 12:34 pm

  11. My first real in-depth exposure to a different culture was having a Korean roommate at BYU. At the time, she seemed rather flaky and her food preferences were difficult to live with (squid, anyone?). But after our experiences during my husband’s graduate school days, we really learned to love the Korean people and enjoy at least some of their cuisine. It’s always a surprise to run into one’s own prejudices and a more pleasant surprise to realize that a prejudice has been overcome. Thanks for the thought-provoking story!

    Comment by Researcher — June 22, 2008 @ 3:45 pm

  12. That is a bit annoying. But then they still teach trades there like truck driving. I assume those are associate degrees rather than bachelor degrees.

    To your main point, I remain convinced that most of our prejudices are due to ignorance and ignorance is due to just not experiencing the familiarity with people we ought have. Hopefully we all experience shakeups to get us out of any prejudices we still have. (And we all have them – even if they may not be racially based) I really think that going to an area where we are the minority is a good thing.

    I still remember coming to Utah and being so freaked out at a basic level that there were no African Americans at any of the grocery stores. It was a bit of a shock after spending much of my mission in areas where often I was the only European-American in the store.

    Comment by Clark — June 22, 2008 @ 7:48 pm

  13. Whoops. Hit send too soon.

    My point was that as I had that experience it made me suddenly wonder what it must be like for minorities coming to Utah who had never had that experience of literally being the minority.

    Comment by Clark — June 22, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

  14. The city I live in has a lot of Hispanics, mostly illegal. About three years ago a family moved in across the street from us. The father speaks fairly good English, the children very good English, and the mother very little English. She is getting better. We go to their big family birthday parties and to family weddings where we are usually the one people there not speaking Spanish. It is a funny feeling to be in minority. But, we know all of the extended family well enough by now that we are still included and they all speak as much English as they can to us.

    The father became a citizen this year, and the mother got her green card last year and is working on her citizenship papers. I have tutored most of the children.

    Our greatest culture difference is with food. The mother won’t eat any ground beef. She is an excellent cook, as far as her background goes, and I like most of her food. However, one year at Christmas she tried to feed me some soup that had pigs feet floating around in it. I looked at her and said, “You don’t eat my hamburgers–I don’t eat your pigs feet.” Then we both laughed and everything was ok.

    Comment by Maurine — June 23, 2008 @ 12:41 am

  15. Thanks for this post, Ardis. Excellent writing and important message for us all. (I’m talking about the shared silence, not the UVSC/UVCC diploma controversy)

    Btw, I’m bugged by dragging flip flops, too – and I’m not that old. :)

    Comment by ECS — June 23, 2008 @ 9:32 am

  16. “I was surprised that you were annoyed because they were speaking another language. Xenophobia, for sure.”

    My cousin and his wife were American tourists walking the streets of a not-to-be-named European city when he overheard a couple behind them say some very insulting things about them in German. He ignored this for a couple of minutes, but the couple became louder and more rude, actually laughing because they believed he didn’t understand what they were saying.

    Finally, he turned and spoke to them in German, asking them to stop. Rather than apologize and move on, the couple began a new mean-spirited conversation in French. My cousin knows multiple languages, and they went through five before the couple gave up.

    When my cousin told this story, I could almost hear the couple muttering as they left, “Damn those Americans! Is noting sacred. Now we can’t even insult them when we want to anymore! What’s the world coming to?”

    Comment by eTigger — June 23, 2008 @ 10:15 am

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