Saturday, October 17, 2015

Why Gerontology?

"I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me." - Maya Angelou

At 4 years old in a kimono, posing with my neighbors.
There are many reasons that led to the decision to study gerontology including my experience as a caregiver and that I've always enjoyed the company of elders. Another reason became more clear recently and it has to do with my experiences with prejudice from childhood. Growing up as a minority, there were times I was excluded from activities because some children and their parents did not want to associate with Asian immigrants. While most were kind, some people held assumptions about me based on misleading stereotypes of Asians. As a child, I remember being teased about my physical appearance, especially my almond eyes, and other times when people imitated Asian mannerisms (very much like the Mr. Yunioshi character from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's) as I walked by. Alternatively, some people were impressed with my ability to speak with no tell-tale "Asian" accent. Though well meaning, peoples' compliments on my English intensified feelings of being a perpetual foreigner

You may wonder how my experience relates to my interest in working with older adults? I believe being treated differently because of what I am has made me sensitive to the way we treat older adults. Ageism is ingrained from childhood and we're not always aware of the prejudicial attitudes we harbor and how it affects people on the receiving end. In the past, I have asked older friends whether they had ageist views in their younger years, and many said they did. One friend who is in her early 70's admitted that as a youth, she disliked older drivers as she often thought, "Get off the road! Get out of my way!" Today, she realizes the irony as younger persons say similar things to her on the road. 

It may seem that older adults are separate from us, but in a sense, they are our future selves. Most of us will eventually become old. The inclusion of older adults in all aspects of society, therefore, would benefit all of us as we learn to create new possibilities within intergenerational environments.