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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Meeting the Amish

My aunt and I visited some of her Amish relatives for a family gathering in Indiana last summer, and that was an eye-opening experience for me. I was interested to see what kind of community they have established for themselves. In my social work classes, we often mention communities and how they affect the family and the individual. The Amish, in my mind, seem to section themselves off from people that aren’t apart of their group, so I was interested to see how the community plays a role in their lives.

One of my preconceptions of the Amish is that they all run farms and live in a sectioned off community and keep to themselves. A lot of them do run farms, but a few don’t. Some work in bakeries, or some own wagon repair shops, or similar things like that. The family that we visited did have their own farm. I was surprised to see that they did own one tractor, they didn’t do everything by hand, but most things they do take care of by hand. They also tend to live next to each other, but there are some “English” people that live nearby. Some parents might sell some land to their children, but some need to go out and find their own place to live.

Another one of my preconceptions is that they don’t have health care or see doctors or dentists regularly, or receive any sort of surgery. It turns out that they do see modern doctors, and if surgery or medication or something similar is needed, they will raise the money themselves in order to avoid a loan. For example, the church may host a bake sale, or raise money for the person in need. The couple that we visited told us that their house had burned down a few months ago, and the men that were a part of their church got together and rebuilt the house in 3 days. That was amazing to me, people are willing to set time aside for someone in their community, and it was good to see how humble they were about this as well. Word seems to travel faster than I had thought in this community. They seem to communicate almost daily with their neighbors. This church community, I’ve learned, is mostly of their own relatives. They all know about each other’s lives and really care for each other. In the neighborhoods I’ve lived in, most neighbors communicate multiple times a week while at church for example. Other neighbors of mine I’ve never met or spoken to, even though they may live next door.

I’ve learned that these Amish families speak Pennsylvania Dutch in the home. The children learn to speak English only when they start school at about kindergarten age. I had never heard about this before. The different women at this family gathering would speak to their children in this different language, and this was very interesting for me to see. The mothers or fathers would hold their infants in their arms the entire time that we were at the gathering. The children that were old enough to walk and communicate with the older children were sent outside to play with their cousins the entire time as the adults stayed indoors to socialize. They all seem to parent their children in the same ways. The adults don’t show much outward emotion or expression, but when speaking to their babies they will smile a bit and their voices will rise higher to speak in “baby talk.” I loved to see this because there are parenting similarities that can be observed in their families and little ones compared to my experience with my little siblings.

I had no idea what to expect when it came to the type of schooling the Amish receive. A lot of the time, the children may need to do kindergarten twice if their English skills aren’t good enough to enter into first grade. The Amish only attend school through the eighth grade. There are some private Amish schools that they can attend, or some of them attend regular public schools. It makes me interested to see how these children get along with the “English” children in public schools. We never got on that topic at the family gathering, but I wonder how that dynamic works out.

From participating in this Amish family gathering, I’ve gained knowledge about how their day to day life functions. They don’t have phones, TVs or electricity. This leaves little time to be distracted and idle, the whole family works hard for most of the day. They are also a very humble people. They don’t boast about work, or go telling others about themselves. They’ll ask about each other quietly, but they won’t ask things that may even be remotely offensive or too personal. I really like this aspect about their culture. The socializing seems calmer, and you really do not need to worry about ulterior motives that someone else may have for talking to you. They have a conversation with you because they genuinely care. I believe that this could make our own society better. Ultimately, though, it’s not right to change people’s attitudes if you don’t agree with them. The way they interact with people, I believe, is a reflection on their religion. If you turn that around and think about our culture you can learn a lot. Our religions, or even our culture reflects how we interact with people. I’ve known some people that swear often in interacting with their peers. Their religion, or lack of it, shows that you can say whatever you want to people because it’s your speech and you can do what you’d like with it. Other very religious would not seek to swear, and they don’t. To me, this shows more respect for the people around them.

Overall, it was interesting to visit this Amish community, and it has really opened my eyes to hear from them. I loved experiencing a part of a culture that I wasn’t raised and was foreign to me. To get to know people as a social worker, I’m going to need to know more about different religions and culture to really get a good understanding of them. It’s important to get beyond the stereotypes of people, and find out what motivates the individual and to find out where they are coming from personally.

Keywords: culture, personal experience, diversity, community

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