It is a privilege to hate my hometown of Bellevue, Washington.
Don’t get me wrong — I feel lucky to have been graced by some cosmic lottery to be born in such an affluent American suburb. Yet, as content as I am for my family to afford to send me to Northwestern, I hate the culture my background entails. As long as I pretend those exorbitant North Shore mansions north of Central don’t exist, Evanston seems like a modest man in comparison to Bellevue, which I’d relate as a businessman lounging in a Masarati. However, as much as I dislike Bellevue, I cannot readily reject the city that taught me everything — that would be the easy attitude to hold against my high-end suburban hometown. Instead, I thank everything about Bellevue for forcing me to see beyond its wannabe glitz and glamor and multimillion dollar estates and views. And while that was all great for some time and some reason, I hope never to return.
Original, I know. To hate one’s own suburban hometown — why don’t I just jump on the next closest bandwagon already?
Yet, imagine living across the street from a barely-breathing, barely-there Stepford wife. Imagine driving to a local high school only to realize you feel incredibly inferior in your Toyota because the parking lot is full of BMW’s, Lexuses and Land Rovers. Imagine going out to “Downtown Bellevue” and seeing a woman badly burnt from a poor tanning salon, with stark, platinum bleached blond hair toting a small dog in a designer bag and having no surprising qualms with this appearance. Imagine learning about Juicy Couture when you were 10 years old; even I can barely imagine my parents’ face when I came home and told them all about it.
Driving into downtown Bellevue on I-405, the city’s very own modern waterway that streams seemingly naturally down Wilburton Hill into the dense commercial district, one is immediately shadowed by cranes and skyscrapers. For a city of approximately 200,000, there seems to be a one skyscraper for every 10 citizens. And despite all of its developers’ efforts, Bellevue is only barely a miniature version of the skyscraper carved and etched Seattle skyline across Lake Washington. Real estate agents force office buildings and apartments into the 15×15 block downtown with the same nonchalance I have piling food on my plate at 1835 Hinman.
The one thing that is fantastic about Bellevue and its citizens is that the taxpaying public is ridiculously generous when it comes to public schooling. Late superintendent and former local celebrity Mike Riley pushed intensely for public education to prepare all students for higher education (because as in Prairie Home Companion, everyone in Bellevue is above average and college is the only post-high school option.) Somewhere through the cracks of establishing picture-perfect, movie-worthy high schools a la East High, the Bellevue School District funded my alternative 6-12 grade, 500-person school with tax dollars. The International School was, and continues to be, an eclectic anomaly that stands out as strangely in Bellevue as the lone thrift store within the Bellevue Collection, the city’s massive, three-building shopping conglomerate advertised as the Pacific Northwest’s premiere shopping destination.
All through middle and high school, I partially resented the International School (IS) for making me feel less and less a part of the Bellevue norm and more a part of strange Bellevue subculture. In middle school, it seemed I never developed the same interests as the majority of my peers: I hated going to Bellevue Square, simply known as “the mall,” where I felt constantly judged by its haute couture patrons, nor could I keep a conversation with many of my peers past three minutes, especially when talk of the latest MTV show came up. Since it seemed so much of the Bellevue norm was defined and determined by the material I was inherently disinterested in, I felt alienated in my own city as I passed through adolescence. I don’t dare to be announce myself to be above materialism, but I am simply not interested in the same material Bellevue flamboyantly glorifies and values.
So while half of the time spent at IS helped foster this feeling of cultural isolation, during the other half of the time, IS was one of the few places within city limits I genuinely felt accepted and normal. At a school where students referred to teachers by their first names, protested standardization and walked off-campus to catch the breeze of people getting blazed, I felt at ease.
The subculture I grew attached to in high school represented a small, but increasingly growing group of youth that flee Bellevue’s Stepford mentality by attempting to imitate the once-hippie lifestyles of our tempered parents. After school, I regularly flocked to a friend’s house in the epicenter of downtown Bellevue. In the shadow of one of Bellevue’s skyscrapers, we graffitied a shed from Home Depot her parents bought on a whim and nicknamed it “The Cabin,” all while chickens ran around her house (these parents in particular were really into a type of urban farming of sorts). Next door, a 5,000-square-foot mansion complete with a gated entrance and fountain remains empty for the majority of the year — it is a foreign businessman’s “summer house.”
And IS was no ordinary secondary school. By high school, most of my peers looking for a “traditional high school experience” left, leaving the IS student body a strange, awkward, diverse group of students, which attracted equally unique teachers. Instead of following curriculum guidelines, teachers spent periods going on and on about Ayn Rand, a personal admiration of Dutch porcelain, Kierkegaard and their own personal life histories. Over these hours, I garnered an education far beyond what any regimental high school could offer. I never quite learned what a fallacy is or anything beyond the concept of a “mole” in chemistry, but from my teachers I learned what it means to introspect everything, always question authority and how important it is to leave Bellevue.
As a result, I have many thanks for the city I detest: Thank you, Bellevue, for giving me the cultural boot and forcing me to find something better and greater than Bellevue Way. Thank you for encouraging the search of escape routes from the city’s unforgiving societal structure. Thank you for the generous school system that got to me to where I am today. Without Bellevue, I would never be here at Northwestern. I could never have gotten here academically, nor would I have ever generated such an eagerness to leave home. So thank you Bellevue, but good-bye; it’s been a privilege.