Open to pupils in S6, the Hamilton Scholarship is a very prestigious scholarship to Hamilton College, a private Liberal Arts College in upstate New York. The Hamilton Scholar spends one year as a student, living on campus, and in addition, is encouraged to travel widely within the USA.
By Keshav Arvind (Class of 2016)
Being in the USA in the run-up to the Presidential election was always going to be an interesting and fun experience. But being there during this particular election was altogether something special. I was able to witness first-hand the fear, revulsion, shock and, occasional joy amongst my peers as they realised that Donald Trump was heading to the White House. Before leaving for the USA I was nervous yet oddly excited to live in a country where almost half the people seemed to support Trump. Trying to find common ground with Trump supporters with whom I had little ideological overlap would be a challenging yet interesting experience. However, my apprehension (what if my roommate was a Trump supporter?!) was slightly misplaced. Hamilton, it turned out, was a bit of a liberal bubble with very few Trump supporters or even Republicans.
I did, however, have the interesting experience of sharing a four-hour car ride with a fellow debater who admitted (and it did feel like an admission) to having voted for Trump. Knowing each other’s views we tiptoed around the subject for a while before finally tackling what I perceived to be the elephant in the room (or perhaps, car!). What struck me immediately was the totally different perspective from which he argued. He most certainly did not consider himself a bigot and seemed able to ignore Trump’s seemingly obvious sexism, ableism and racism, instead focusing on other areas of his rhetoric that he could agree with, such as, the destruction of Rust Belt industry. When viewed through this carefully screened lens, Trump almost seemed to me to be an acceptable candidate. It served to demonstrate the dangers of being selective in our recognition and acceptance of facts. It also got me wondering as to whether I was guilty of similar partiality in support of more liberal candidates. On reflection, sadly, I probably am! However, the best way to overcome this limitation is to regularly engage with people who hold views that are very different to our own. Thankfully, the Hamilton exchange has given me the opportunity to do precisely that and has therefore made me more aware of my own shortcomings in this regard.
Hamilton’s commitment to an open curriculum, gave me the opportunity to learn about a wide range of subjects that I would otherwise never had the opportunity to study.
The election was of course just one of the exciting things my year at Hamilton had to offer. The liberal arts education system, and in particular, Hamilton’s commitment to an open curriculum, gave me the opportunity to learn about a wide range of subjects that I would otherwise never had the opportunity to study. Understanding the World Wars from an American perspective was an odd experience. When compared with the poetry, memorials and remembrance services in Britain, the US does not appear to place the same importance on the Great War. On reflection, this is perhaps understandable given the US’ limited involvement in World War I.
Studying in upstate New York also gave me the opportunity to visit the city during Fall Break. Having only visited New York City once before (at the age of six), the experience of walking around the towering buildings and bustling streets was quite a novel experience – especially after spending two months at the relatively secluded Hamilton College campus. Together with a friend from college I visited some of the iconic landmarks of New York, from the Empire State Building to Central Park. However, the highlight of my trip to New York City has to be my visit to the United Nations Headquarters. Having taken advantage of the excellent opportunity that Watson’s offered, to participate in the Model UN for six years, it was a treat to visit the real UN building and see some of the iconic rooms where world-changing decisions had (or, all too often, had not) been made.
Overall my year at Hamilton has been filled with new, varied and interesting opportunities. I have been exposed to new perspectives on issues as serious as gun ownership as well as the more trivial, yet equally hotly debated, topic of the merits of the Fahrenheit scale over Celsius. Even if I have gained nothing else over the past year, at least I can now tell you that water freezes at 32°F!