Breaking Down the Walls got me involved in our community

December 2, 2019 — by Cici Xu

“Step inside the circle if ...” 

The gym was in complete silence. I could hear only footsteps. I could see people’s backs moving away from me, tears rolling down cheeks and the determination to be their true selves in eyes filled with memories. 

It was good to know that I was not alone when I stepped inside the circle, noticing people who have been through the same thing that I have. 

Breaking Down the Walls was a series of activities organized in late October 2018 to connect students in a more profound way by creating a safe atmosphere to let students communicate and interact with each other. The most impactful of the activities was the Step Into the Circle activity, where people share their struggles with the act of simply stepping forward to various prompts. 

I was shaken by the complexity of my emotions as the questions progressed from easy to hard. 

“Step inside the circle if you’ve ever felt depressed or hopeless.”

I stepped in fearlessly along with dozens of others.

The continuous switching of roles of being a participant, who stepped into the circle, and an observer, looking at the people in the middle of the circle, provided me an opportunity to reflect and examine myself and the challenges that I wanted to avoid for the years to come.

When I was an observer, I spent time concentrating on others. I felt for others. I searched for others. When I saw that people suffered through greater struggles than I did, I no longer thought about myself, but rather I empathized with the participants. 

I got to know people's personal backgrounds and beliefs. I suddenly started to understand why some look shy all the time, why some people seem depressed and fearful. Trust and friendship are both based on the understanding of one another. This event successfully drew us closer as a group. 

Admittedly, that day of sharing — only one day — cannot make a significant change in our school environment, but change is possible. 

I moved to Saratoga two years ago from China. I was a complete stranger to the culture and the people growing up here. Sometimes, I felt people stared at me like I did not belong. I was kind of depressed and anxious back then. 

I blamed myself for not knowing how to speak and write fluent English, for not being open to people and seeming to always be the one who destroys the joyful atmosphere. I was shy and hoped people would understand me better so I could get the chance to understand them. This event was the chance  I was hoping for a really long time to get involved in this community.

This Step Into the Circle activity helped me get to know more people and to gain confidence, and to know that I am not and will never be alone. 

People started to wave at me after Breaking Down the Walls and those little gestures always make my day.

Breaking Down the Walls is not meant to change everybody. It might not benefit everyone, but will for sure help those who desperately need it. If you think it is a waste of time, just enjoy the fact that you are not having class that day and respect the ones who need it because I am almost confident in the fact that there are many others who felt the same way I did. 

The people who need these types of activities are often the ones who are afraid or too shy to speak up, like myself back then. Not everyone has the courage to actively seek help or opportunities to get involved in the school community. 

When you get a broad understanding of the people around you, knowing that things that did not happen to you have happened to others, you will pay more respect to them. If you are willing to observe, think and reflect, you will ultimately approach life in a more unbiased and open way.

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At UC Berkeley, PhD student Abrar Abidi and research assistant Yvonne Hao have embarked on a goal of creating hand sanitizer for the Bay Area's most vulnerable populations, including the homeless and the incarcerated. Their hand sanitizer includes glycerol mixed with other products, in accordance with a formula from the World Health Organization. So far, they are producing 120 hundreds of gallons of sanitizer each week. Photo courtesy of Roxanne Makasdjian with UC Berkeley.

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