I peer around. I shiver. Instead of a bunch strangers, new-comers, I am surrounded by peers I know well, I have lived and studied with. We are arming ourselves for the Intercultural Training we offer to the freshman to help them triumph where we have struggled.
And it is harder to disclose yourself to friends than to strangers. The trainer beside me stands up and shares his ‘anti-stereotype’, “I come from Africa but I don’t hunt animals.”
Yes, that’s reasonable. My heart is beating suddenly. I could just repeat what I have said a hundred times before: “I am indian, but I don’t have dark hair.” -I know. And if you’ve seen me once, you know too. Perhaps its time to go deeper. I stand up, prepared for people to quirk their eyebrows at my statement.
“I’m spiritual but I’m not high.”
This is my 6th Dive Into Diversity Training at Jacobs-and it never fails to arouse new perspectives as we reestablish the meaning of Jacobs-not only the exposure of other cultures, but thriving, diving and fighting for diversity.
Intercultural Trainings are hot commodity on the international scene, providing crucial knowledge and skills to surviving and interacting across borders and in diverse groups. At Jacobs, peer volunteer trainers offer the additional trove of our own personal tips, tricks and experience of living in a community that hosts over 110 nationalities.
The Class of 2018 arrived from everywhere California to South Africa to Mongolia, down under to Australia and back on to Ecuador. Did I mention all the bicultural, trilingual, multinational mixes? They received a 5-hour training that strove to give even a taste of a successful social and academic life in the foreign cultural context.
But lets be realistic. Five hours on the second afternoon of you new life in Germany. Your tired, confused, unconvinced, adventurous. Who needs to hear about culture shock symptoms one more time, or the u-curve yet again? A good friend, fully adjusted at Jacobs, even asks me,
“But really, you don’t believe it does any good? Do you think we really learn anything there? Look, he only remembers its respectful to speak english; I remember nothing!”
Truth is, training is not about you learning the Iceberg Model of Culture. Training is not even for just the newbies.
You can sit and joke, complain and moan through this training as much as you like. But at the end of those five hours, every participant knows that at Jacobs, we do value cultural, and sub-cultural diversity. That discriminative or stereotyping jokes are nothing more than that: jokes. That slandering, insult and, discrimination do not belong to the ‘cool crowd’ here. That if you ever feel discriminated against, You have the right to speak out, and will be heard.
There are numerous ways of coping and handling the challenges of diversity- you will find your own. But post-training, the incoming class has concurred about certain careless, hurtful and malicious behaviors which will Not become part of our adaptation process.
The six intercultural trainings I have seen each revealed cultural undercurrents that cause cross-cultural Titanics to sink. But, despite disagreements in specific topics, our resolution style is relatively consensual. We all want the right to express discontent, and be heard.
So thank you, Intercultural Trainers for starting our year with a much-needed dialogue of Intercultural awareness and learning.
And thank you, Class of 2018, for the extra effort you put in too make this more than a conglomeration of multinationals trying to get a Bachelors degree- rather to make this a thriving community that breaks social barriers as relics of the past in an age where diversity is our greatest asset.