Deep Cultural Exploration Sarah Brekke

My family is white, and we came from Norway, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany. I know the most about my Norwegian heritage. There is a town in Norway that is called Brekke, which is my last name. My family lives in Overland Park, a suburban community found in Johnson County. I have lived in the same house my entire life. My grade school and high school were less than ten minutes from my house. I don’t really know how long my family has been in America. To my knowledge, my grandparents and great-grandparents were born here. Both of my grandpas fought in different wars.

I would say that my family is middle class. We go on a few vacations here and there, but never anything too extravagant. We have struggled with money at times, but never anything too serious. My brother has had to have heart surgery a few times, so that definitely took a toll. I would say that we have always been comfortable, not wealthy, but not poor. I am very fortunate to have the resources and opportunities that I have. When people in my family graduate from high school, it is expected that they will go to college. My grandparents married young and did not go to college, but all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins have attended or are currently attending a college.

Growing up, I heard a lot of stories about the lives my parents when they were younger. We have a lakehouse that has been in our family since my mom was in grade school, and her cousins, aunts, and uncles grew very close due to their time spent together at that lakehouse. My family is kind of crazy, so they have a lot of stories to tell about hilarious things that happened there. Because of this, my siblings and I are very close with our cousins, aunts, and uncles, and now we have our own stories to tell! My dad is from South Dakota, and he has lots of stories to tell about his siblings and the crazy amounts of snow they get up there (he thinks Kansas snow is nothing). He loves music, and always told us stories about the endless number of concerts he had been to. Because of this, my siblings and I have been exposed to lots of different types of music.

My family has a lot of traditions. We always open our Christmas presents on Christmas Eve (which a lot of people think is weird). My dad always opened presents on Christmas Eve when he was growing up, so that’s what we do. We also always spend the Fourth of July at our lakehouse with all our extended family. During March Madness, my whole family makes brackets and sits on the couch all day watching basketball. One of the newer traditions in my family is that my dad always makes a huge, nice dinner the day before we leave to go back to college.

One of the heroes in my family was my grandpa. He died when I was in seventh grade, and he had been a huge rock in my family. He had rough, callused hands from working and golfing too much. He was one of the greatest examples of love in my family, and his loss was heavy on our hearts for a long time. My family is Catholic, so a lot of our heroes were the saints. My mom taught us a lot about how important these people were. The antiheroes were the people in school who weren’t nice. My mom drilled it into our heads that there was nothing to gain by being mean or rude to someone.
One saying I remember my parents saying when I was growing up was “Why so sad, Mrs. Glad?” My mom would often say this to us when we were sad about something to make us smile or laugh. It taught me to not take life too seriously, and that there is always something to smile about. One story that really sticks out in my mind is one my dad told me. When he was in high school, he didn’t really know anybody and had a hard time making friends at first. He always sat alone at lunch. One day, another guy invited him to sit at his table, and that guy ended up being the best man in my dad’s wedding. This story taught me to give everyone a chance, and that you have nothing to lose by reaching out to someone.
Out of my whole childhood, the one phrase I would use to describe it is “Be nice and don’t judge people.” My mom and dad always told us that if you can be nothing else, at least be nice. My parents modeled this through the way they treated each other. I have never seen them disrespect each other. They approached every situation with compassion. When I saw my dad interact with other adults, he was always smiling and kind. He’s pretty funny, too, so the people he talks to are often laughing. My mom is a teacher, and she respects her students so much. Even when she is frustrated out of her mind, she remembers to treat each student with dignity and compassion. My dad cries during Hallmark commercials, so I have him to blame for the way I react to crying/ heartwarming things. My parents taught us to empathize with other people, so when I see someone else crying, it makes me cry. Because of this, seeing other people happy also makes me happy.
In my community, leadership was praised. I went to a private high school where being involved in activities outside of school was the norm. Hard work was also a big thing in my community. My parents always pushed me to work hard, and the curriculum at my high school was very challenging. Service was important as well. We had a club in high school solely focused on doing service and helping others. I was taught to avoid peer pressure and friends who made bad decisions. It was frowned upon to do whatever you wanted without thinking of the consequences and who would be affected by your decisions.
I was expected to do what authority figures, such as teachers, coaches, and other adults, told me to do. However, sometimes just because I did what they told me to didn’t mean that I respected them. The authority figures that had the biggest impact on my life were the ones that worked to build a relationship of trust, compassion, and friendship. When I was little, the only adults I called by their first name were my aunts and uncles, as well as my mom’s best friends from grade school. Everyone else was either Mr. or Mrs. In my family, we got in trouble for being mean to our siblings or fighting with them. We also got in trouble for not doing our chores or ignoring what our parents told us to do. If our parents heard that we were being mean to someone at school, they sat us down and talked to us about it. Disrespect was not tolerated, and we would usually get sent to our room if something like that happened. I got praise when I was younger for many things. My parents always told us how thankful they were that we were nice kids. They also praised me for getting good grades in school. They were supportive throughout all the sports I played, though they never got angry if I wasn’t very good. I also got praise if I helped my siblings or went above and beyond what was expected of me. I was not allowed to question or talk back to adults. That was one thing that my cousins did that shocked me, because my parents would never be okay with that. However, my parents didn’t really run a dictatorship at my house. We are a really close family, so things are said in a more conversational manner and there really isn’t any room for talking back. My parents always let us voice our opinions at the appropriate time as long as they were said in a nice way. My parents never really addressed if we were allowed to call adults by their first name, we were just used to calling them Mr. or Mrs.

My family has always been very open about their emotions. My mom would tell us that we could tell her anything. Because of this, I view communication as key to any relationship. It’s important that you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings with other people, and that they feel comfortable sharing theirs with you.

I care about school a lot. My parents always told me I was smart, so I couldn’t really get bad grades without them wondering if I wasn’t trying. Because of this, I have always worked very hard in school. I think that everything about school is important, from learning content to building a classroom community. Self-motivation is a big factor in my life. I procrastinate and put things off until the very last second, but I work really hard on them, because I want to get good grades. If they are things I enjoy doing, then I often do them earlier or sporadically. Everyone in my family has strong values of leadership, so when it comes to leadership positions/ activities, we are extremely motivated. Effort is basically required in my family. My parents were never satisfied with anything being done halfway. Because of this, I put a lot of effort into the things that matter to me. Even if I have a good grade in a class, I don’t just stop trying. I was raised in a very hardworking family, and that has rubbed off on me and the way I do things, even when they’re not around.
I believe that every student should be attentive. However, I don’t think this responsibility falls solely on the student. The teacher is just as important in keeping her students interested and challenging them. I think that I came to believe this, because there were a lot of students at the schools I went to who really didn’t care about school. Looking back, I realized that this was probably due to the fact that my teachers didn’t relate the content to something they were interested in. My culture taught me that anyone can be smart. I was taught that skin color or social class had nothing to do with how smart you are. I think the reason I believe this is due to the many famous people I was exposed to that were from all different cultures. I grew up learning about Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Maya Angelou. All of these people are extremely smart, and they come from all different kinds of cultures. Because of this, I didn’t grow up believing some groups were smarter than others. I think that parts of intelligence may come from genetics, but it’s not the only factor. I also don’t think that intelligence is set at birth.

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