Celebrate our differences
There are nearly 7.5 billion people in the world. We are all different and we are all special. Incredible diversity of culture, language, religion, and appearance make the world more fascinating place. Despite this, the lack of knowledge about differences among us could amplify anxiety and fear that make it difficult to accept others from different backgrounds. My intercultural experiences in the UK taught me the importance of embracing our differences.
Last year, I applied my school’s short exchange programme and studied at local British school. I was instantly mesmerized by its ethnic diversity. During the first week, however, I started to feel isolated and unintentionally put up barriers around me, instead of opening myself up to others. I remember the feeling of anxiety swept over me when I vividly noticed differences between me and other students. But, one girl changed my view of the world dramatically. When I first saw her, she was talking joyfully with her friends. One thing, however, stood out to me was a black headscarf covering her hair; she was a Muslim. Suddenly, the shocking image of Islam terrorism came into my mind. When my friend introduced me to her, I felt nervous. Then she loed at me pleasantly and said,
‘’You have wonderful black hair’’. Seeing her innocent smile, I felt ashamed that I had momentarily associated her with the negative media portrayal of Muslims that was deeply instilled in me.
As time went by, she became one of my precious friends. Her unlimited generousness has been a role model to me. She invited me to her house for dinner twice. On that day, as I entered the room, four adults were speaking quickly in Arabic and her cousins were playing card games. Women all wore flowing dark-coloured robes. The room had a different atmosphere compared with my host family’s house. At that time, I was not ready for some culture shocks. While watching a film together, she suddenly stood up and left the room. Then I heard unfamiliar words from the next room. It took me a few minutes to discern it was prayer. She explained to me later the five daily prayer times are the most important for Muslims. Sitting alone on a sofa I recognised again that I led a completely distinct life from her. Later, her mother cooked curry for dinner. Until that day, I did not know Muslims only eat haral food and do not eat pork. When I started to eat curry with a knife and folk, her little brother gave me a look of confusion which I can never forget. Then I realised that all of them were eating with their fingers, picking up curry and rice proficiently. What I noticed next was they were using the right hand. Little did I know that left hand is considered unclean in Islam, so they shake hands with the right hand and avoid eating with the left hand. Although it sounded onerous for me, they respect their custom. I was the only person who was eating with utensils, using the left hand. As many differences came apparent, I strongly felt as if I had been transported to another world. I thought eating curry with my right hand would be regarded as an impolite manner in Japan. After a moment of hesitation, I made up my mind to eat with my fingers. I was heedful not to mess things up, but her brother told me special knacks and I was becoming used to it. Everyone smiled at me happily. I finally felt I could understand and embrace their culture.
Realising differences widened my global mind-set. After this experience, I felt intercultural communication cannot be achieved by simply improving language skills; rather, it is more important to cherish different cultures. Thus, I started to learn them. With deeper understandings, I could have an image more clearly about other cultures, and this has helped me when I talk with diverse students from China to Brazil. From unparalleled opportunities at her house I learned the importance of taking time to understand people’s cultural backgrounds and respecting our differences. I bear these two things in mind all the time. [695 words]