The Spoke / Shukriya, Xiè Xie, Gratias Tibi Subscribe

Fellows at Albright Institute Wintersession 2018
The friends you have shape what you know. Who can be heard in your bubble?

In my first semester at Wellesley College, I, thanks to the recruiting genius of Professor Thomas Hodge, began studying Russian. This was the first step on a journey that, while it has since landed me back at Wellesley College as the Assistant Director of the Albright Institute, in the interim sent me off of to Indiana University to study Uzbek and eventually to live for six years in Central Asia.

Living in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, I made a lot of lifelong friends and, like most people in the world, I keep in touch with them through Facebook. While living in Central Asia, I looked forward to updates of an acquaintance from high school who passionately reported on the ups (mostly) and downs (thankfully rare) of New England’s various sports teams. I’m sure that this person had absolutely no idea how much I enjoyed reading his posts. But they meant a lot to me because, whatever the topic he was banging on about, I felt confident he reflected the conversations people were having in bahs and by the bubblah. These posts provided insights into the mood of my little corner of America that I couldn’t access any other way.

Now that I am back in the United States, I am experiencing a reversal of this effect. My Facebook includes stories that I would never see in the media here: postings about the freezing weather and electricity shortages in Bishkek or re-posts from people on the scene of the recent bombing in Afghanistan that killed more than 100 people. Even when what my friends are talking about does somehow break into the news cycle here (sadly rare), their posts provide mood and context. Their online chatter also keeps me grounded and gives me perspective that my daily doses of distress in Trump’s America are often fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things and I should really stop crying about them in my car.

Increasingly, the “filter bubble” on your social media feed determines what news you see and, if you don’t consciously struggle against it, that media feed will shape what you think about the world, too. And the algorithm that determines the filter on your particular bubble seems to be in large part determined by the company you keep on social media. The tech world, as is its way, has come up with some lovely technological solutions to this problem, like an app to scatter news sources you wouldn’t normally read. But, revolutionarily, making friends in real life with people who have different opinions and perspectives and a diversity of opinions can also unleash its own algorithmic magic.

At the closing ceremony of the Albright Institute Wintersession in January 2018, the forty Wellesley juniors and seniors who made up this year’s cohort of Fellows and who know a language other than English rose and thanked Secretary Albright in that language (or languages, in some cases). It seemed that half of the Fellows had a shukriya, xiè xie, or gratias tibi (yes, there are still people who study Latin) to contribute. Having myself started intensively studying a foreign language at Wellesley, I have a deep appreciation for the way that knowing an additional language can open you up to new perspectives on the world. The ethos of the Albright Institute is that people with a diversity of perspectives are all needed to solve the increasingly complex challenges that face the world today. By design, language is not the only way in which Fellows brought diverse perspectives, they also come from a wide variety of backgrounds -- academically, geographically and otherwise. Language was just one facet of the way in which this was a room chock-a-block with diversity of perspectives.

Fellows, in becoming friends with one another, on Facebook and, I hope, in “real life”, have started a probably irrevocable process of broadening their minds. In just three weeks, the Fellows made friends who will keep their eyes open to what’s going on in the world; they now have a lifetime of friend-making ahead of them to keep broadening their perspectives. That these relationships can serve as a reminder that the world is big is an amazing gift. As long as the reality of our world includes the fact that our friends determine our worldview, what a boon to be able to make such a diversity of friends in so short a time.

So, as I sit at my computer or on my phone scrolling, the posts I see feel like a reminder of the path I’ve taken to get to where I am today and a push to continue to grow by reaching out to new people and being open to the new points of view they can share. I hope that is what Fellows will see too when they are reading some day in the future messages that originate from the friends that they made at the Albright Institute -- a reminder of how broad their worldview is and is becoming.


Photo Credit: Kelly Fitzsimmons Photography, Albright Institute Wintersession 2018.