Take a moment to think about where you come from. Think about the foods, the sounds, the languages, the colors, and the essence of what it means to be a part of the culture from which you were raised. What does culture mean to you? How does it make you feel? Is it important to you? Why or why not?
In some way, shape, or form, we are all missing it; missing home, missing those environments that hold our childhood memories, and our annual celebratory traditions. Where we come from is so beautiful, so deep, and so special that ignoring it can be equated to losing a limb or vital organ. It is a bizarre concept to be geographically re-located and immersed into an entirely new culture, like taking Abraham Lincoln and dropping him onto the streets of modern day Tokyo. I think he would find himself asking questions like, how do I adapt? Where do I begin? and What do I do? College students go through similar subconscious freak outs every day, and it is important to keep in mind that in the midst of all this cultural transition and turmoil, our blood and skin are inherent parts of us that will never change.
Have any of following thoughts ever crossed your mind since you have been on campus?
■ “No one understands me”
■ “I feel alone”
■ “I feel discriminated against”
■ “I just want to be back home”
These sentiments are normal, and almost everyone feels similarly at some point in their collegiate experience. The big question we have to ask ourselves next is “What can I do about it?”
Here are a few tips to making your culture a more integral part of campus living:
1. Look into Trinity’s large array of cultural clubs. Join one that fits you, and attend at least five other cross-cultural or social events to attend throughout the year to expand your global perspective.
2. Meet someone new every day, ask them about their culture, and become comfortable with sharing your values and experiences. When conversing with peers and good friends, make culture an iterating topic of discussion.
3. Begin noticing the similarities between your culture and others. Recognize the similarities in values and beliefs while respecting differences and using them as a means of gaining insight into another person’s understanding of this world.
4. Organize cultural food nights in your hall’s kitchen. Exchange recipes, involve everyone in the cooking process, and talk about the history of your dishes and its relevance to your family.
5. If you are still not feeling understood, get a small group together and create your own cultural group. If you are passionate enough, it will become a reality, and Trinity will provide you with the resources necessary to get you going.
The only way we are going to truly understand each other is by openly sharing our perspectives, experiences, and cultures. We often forget that each and every one of us has a story, so it is important that we start to get comfortable with actually sharing ours. You never know how your life story can inspire someone, shed crucial insight, or provide an opportunity for you to grow as an individual.
What if I run into conflict with another student’s worldview or perspective?
It is important to have a sense of cultural awareness before expressing biased judgments against particular social and cultural groups. The truth is, words can hurt, and prevent us from growing as a cohesive campus community. Put yourself in their shoes first, and ask progressive questions that uncover why someone would believe or act in such a way in the first place. How would you feel if condescending remarks were made about your culture, or about you in general? Instead of slamming, actually attend a group meeting and become immersed in a new way of looking at the world. Empathy enlightens understanding, cultivates self-reflection, and inspires collaboration.
What if I am the victim of hurtful remarks or circumstances?
If we are presented with such remarks or circumstances, remember that it is okay to be upset, but the real challenge resides in how we react. At this point, we need to drop our defensive shields, start empathizing, and speak truth from the heart. Letting a remark or circumstance hinder our true potential or ambition only allows for the perpetuation of such ignorance to occur. Conversely, allowing a circumstance to drive us to act abrasively in defense only perpetuates the notion of conflict and tension, when clarity could have been discovered through civilized discussion. Address situations of ignorance respectfully, question the intention, context, and derivation, and move on. As Einstein said, “Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds,” and our human spirits are stronger and more beautiful than any ignorant remark could ever be.
Culture is our means of adapting to this world. Culture is who we are.
Respect, share, learn, and that will make all the difference.