In the Chinese Students' Association's Cultural Show last semester, I was granted the privilege of being the child version of an East Asian guy. I'm Indian though. As absurd as it sounded in principle, fortunately, I was able to have a great time and also learn about Chinese culture. There were more than a few heckles from the audience, but it was fun. Noticeably, the audience was predominantly East Asian. In order to embrace diversity, one should engage more in events organized by cultural groups and try to absorb different values as much as possible.
From the CSA to La-Casa Latina, there is an incredible amount of representation of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds at Penn. However, what we lack is cross-engagement between cultures. Many students do not show interest in attending cultural shows or celebrations which are not their own. For example, a movie screening organized by the Penn India Association last semester had a low turnout, and I would definitely consider the disinterest of people from other cultures as one of the reasons.
Part of the reason why there is a lack of cultural curiosity is the comfort that our own background gives us. But this results in a lack of adaptability which is highly damaging to relationships in our domestic and global multicultural worlds. And even knowing people from different cultures, but ignoring their background does not provide for enriching insights into what else there is in the world. Even though ignoring our preconceived stereotypes to accept different people is a good value, what I’m suggesting is that cultural curiosity can help us grow as a person, by making us receptive to change.
This can go beyond cultural shows. Popular documentary filmmaker Michael Moore visited several European countries to examine how differently they view work, education, health, equality, and more for his film “Where To Invade Next”. From cafeteria food to sexual education, Moore looks at the benefits of schooling in France, Finland, and Slovenia. In Italy, he marvels at how workers enjoy reasonable hours and generous vacation time. In Portugal, Moore notes the effects of the decriminalization of drugs. And that represents the principle that can help Penn students take advantage of the diversity in the student population: look beyond their own.
So, participate in events or shows organized by cultural groups. See something different, something new. You could even be in a performing group that focuses on representing a culture to others if you prefer action over being in an audience. If cultural groups in our college benefit their own members alone, the individual communities grow within their limited scope, but the Penn community doesn’t.
TEJASWI BHAVARAJU is a College first-year from India, studying Mathematical Economics and Cinema Studies. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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