Students should experience other cultures

Students should experience other cultures

I called a friend from my car to ask if he had already arrived at the birthday party of a Colombian TCU swimmer. “Yeah, but we are all in the back,” he answered. “The Hispanics have taken over the front room.”

My roommate and I walked in to see exactly that – a living room full of Latin students dancing to Spanish music and the non-Latino students huddled in the other room.

This is ridiculous, I thought. At the sound of “Rakata,” I pulled my roommate in with me to shake our booties with people “oh so different” from us.

It frustrated me that at this moment, it seemed the TCU students had no concept of what the “citizens in a global community” part of the university’s mission statement meant.

“There are students at TCU who just don’t want to be involved in another culture,” junior Guillermo Ramirez, who hosted the party, said afterward.

Ramirez lived in Colombia until he came to the United States to swim at Indian River Community College in Florida in 2003 and at TCU in 2005.

He said his experiences traveling and living away from his home country have opened him up to understanding new people and cultures. Many TCU students, Ramirez said, haven’t had this opportunity to live or travel extensively outside the country.

John Singleton, director of International Student Services, agreed.

“TCU students, like typical U.S. citizens, don’t have a great deal of experience and access outside of their small view of the world,” he said.

Junior Michael Bou-Nacklie has. The International Student Association president is part Swiss and part Lebanese and grew up in Saudi Arabia before coming to TCU.

“I don’t exactly belong to a culture myself,” Bou-Nacklie said, “so mixing with people of different cultures has never been difficult.”

But, he said he understands the tentativeness of students who have lived in the United States, or even more specifically, Texas, their whole lives.

“Everyone is hesitant to mix into a group of people they aren’t a part of,” he said.

So, we listen to different kinds of music. We eat different foods. Hell, we most likely even speak a different native language. But are we really so different?

Maya Angelou doesn’t seem to think so.

“Human beings are more alike than unalike,” she wrote in one of her books, “and what is true anywhere is true everywhere.”

Perhaps if we were willing to forgo our initial uncertainties and speak to someone for more than five minutes, we could begin to notice these similarities. We may see that although our perceptions of humor may be different, we all love a good laugh every once in a while. After making a bond with someone of another culture, we may notice that shwarma is delicious to anyone who has living taste buds and the reggaeton beat is pretty good for getting down.

OK, that’s all warm and wonderful, students may say, but why should we make the effort to establish that connection and find similarities with those from other cultures? What if everything’s fine just the way it is?

“It’s safe if you plan to work within a 20-mile radius of I-35,” Singleton said of students hesitant to reach out to understand other cultures. “But if you want to look bigger than that, you have to look global.”

In a message to Congress in October 1977, President Carter stressed the importance of making the effort to reach beyond one’s own culture.

“Only by knowing and understanding each other’s experiences can we find common ground on which we can examine and resolve our differences,” he said. “As the world becomes more and more interdependent, such mutual understanding becomes increasingly vital.”

The world is becoming more interdependent. According to federal statistics on the Fort Worth area, 43.1 percent of the population in 2000 was not white. That means people are constantly coming in contact with, and depending on, others of different colors, religions and backgrounds.

In zip code 76129, we are relying on players from Italy and Romania to keep our men’s tennis team undefeated. We are depending on our colleagues and professors to teach our students at our sister schools in London, Seville, Spain, and Florence, Italy.

And perhaps another reason to engage ourselves in other cultures is to broaden our thinking and expand our view of the world and ourselves. A new point of view may compel us to stop criticizing other ways of life and take a critical look at our own. Instead of being utterly appalled by the violent religious movements by Muslim radicals, we may begin to see there are many religious crimes fueled by hatred right here in our own country – the Alabama church burnings, for example.

“If students aren’t going global, they aren’t going anywhere.”

That’s what Singleton said he has heard constantly repeated during these times of globalization.

“We are fast approaching the absolute disintegration of physical and cultural borders,” he said.

Bou-Nacklie said there is a population of American students at TCU who recognize these times.

“We always have American students wanting to be involved in ISA and meet other students each year,” he said.

For an even bigger jump into another culture, Singleton’s top piece of advice for students wanting to “go global” is to study abroad.

Tracy Williams, associate director of TCU Abroad, says studying abroad is a way for students to learn things that will help them in their futures, even if they decide to stay close to home.

“In our lives, we have to deal with all kinds of different people,” she said. “Going abroad gives us the chance to meet different people and teaches us to be sensitive and open to new ideas – lessons that will help throughout our lives.”

Singleton also advises students to volunteer for a nonprofit organization that does work in a multicultural setting or at one of the numerous offices that does multicultural work on the TCU campus.

So get involved on a global scale. Make a friend of someone you normally wouldn’t. Dance to some Spanish music. Take a few steps outside your comfort zone and pull up a chair. Pretty soon you’ll feel the hard plastic beneath you turn into a plush La-Z-Boy. Once you feel pretty good in your new spot, you’ll realize your comfort zone has grown bigger. And that is a good thing, because this world’s a pretty big place.

Kim Tesarek is a senior international communication major from Omaha, Neb.