February, 2003. Fearing for my life because of the taxi driver’s bravado on a highway. Moscow, Russia : 25 degrees Fahrenheit, sleet on the roads. Within 24 hours, I find myself on a different planet: flower beds with rhododendrons getting ready to slowly go into shy, not yet full, bloom, and green lawns on which people in summer clothes are walking their ferrets on leashes. Welcome to Dayton, Oregon: 51 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heart of the Willamette valley, surrounded by vineyards, a place that I so often witnessed to literally be the end of the rainbow.
When you find yourself in a place so different than the one you came from, you don’t expect anything else to be the similar, to say the least. But, to my surprise, things were similar, once you looked past the first impressions and the smokescreen of consumerism. People are the same everywhere and you just need to see past the differences of each others’ roots while recognizing the influence it had on them.
Perhaps one of the things I can clearly define as one of my cultural shock experiences was the “School Spirit” phenomenon. Nothing could have prepared me for the “Pajama dress theme day”, where a math teacher walked into the classroom in fuzzy slippers (which I envied the second I saw them) and Pajama clothes.
The schools in Russia did not, at least in those times in my city, have sports teams – every now and then, the exceptionally able students would represent the school in mini-Olympics on the regional level, but nothing quite as big as the homecoming game, whose preparation included dress theme days in the first place. Lockers of girls’ basketball team players decorated in the early morning before students even woke up and got to school – that showed quite a bit of effort and someone caring, and it impressed me.
I suppose what struck me was how, something as silly-looking as showing up to school with a pillow (which I think counted as a pajama-related accessory) or something that required more planning – a surprise secret breakfast for the dance team (which I was on for a semester) brought a very diverse school together in one way or another to support fellow classmates and teammates. You might be supporting someone you don’t even know, someone who would be risking their health by representing your school at the state championships.
I never dressed up for pajama day – just wasn’t my thing. Instead, I got involved with student government and helped introduce a new dress theme – camouflage day (seeing how many of the students owned and liked camouflage colors and gear). It was nice to see a hundred or so students next day in all shades of green with occasional camouflage print here and there.
School spirit was one of my culture shocks. A positive one, I might add. No point talking about the negative ones – they are already out there. I hear foreigners in the U.S. talk about how much food and wrapping material gets wasted in the States, but although that is most of the time true ( I have witnessed it myself, they keep forgetting), there are some good things should be out there as well.
I haven’t been back to the Homecoming game since I moved from Dayton, Oregon. One of these years, I will. I remember my school colors, even though I don’t think I ever bought any clothing of those colors intentionally. It’s something that brings children of illegal immigrants and makes them feel as important as, say, the children of the district attorneys – showing support for other students in the school. It took time to get used to school spirit, but once I realized what it was really for, I welcomed that shock.