At the start of the semester, my motivation to join the Intercultural Leadership Initiative (ILI) was very simple – to learn different cultures and make more friends. It turned out that ILI was much more than that. It offered me a new lens to view my surroundings and life happenings. I was able to see uniqueness in every culture and individual. By giving up on prejudices and stereotypes, I can better understand the way things work. Despite the fact that everyone is different, the similarities that we share help us appreciate and learn from each other.
To understand and appreciate differences, we cannot deny the existence of prejudice. Once I had a discussion in my group about why we needed to learn so many prejudices and discrimination when the course aimed to facilitate mutual understanding. In the field trips, we went to Fruitvale, Chinatowns in Oakland and San Francisco, and the Tenderloin district to study the discrimination in those regions. In the class, we watched videos to learn that most people tend to jump to conclusion in their judgment. In a game to model social classes, we realized that our world was never fair to everyone. Many of the exercises and activities could even be uncomfortable by exposing us to the harsh truths of society. But at the same time, the reflections on these biases and unfairness helped us to understand their existence, which led us to discover the root of problems. I was particularly inspired by the talk with the homeless old man in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. He said, “Our world is never meant be fair, it is everyone’s contribution that makes it different. As university graduates who are more fortunate in society, you all carry the responsibility to make it a slightly better place.” I will always remember that and do what I can in my own life.
Understanding the world is not complete if we do not explore ourselves. There was an assessment in ILI that helps individuals to understand one’s competence in adapting cultural differences and commonality. I always thought that I appreciated different cultures. But the truth was, I still had a judgmental orientation that viewed cultural differences in terms of “us” and “them.” I saw the differences in cultures but found it hard to accept the cultural differences. It surprised me at the start. But when I recalled my intercultural encounters, I could not negate that I habitually shunned people who I considered “weird.” I often found it hard to make true friends because it seemed that most people could not understand me. After a talk with Jason Patent, I realized that I always focused too much on the differences and tended to neglect the similarities we share. It is, however, the recognition of similarities that helps one to eliminate the barrier in communication and understanding. I have to put more effort in appreciating the similarities among people.
Same same, but different. Discovering the similarity brings people closer. Understanding the differences clears the confusions. ILI class has helped me to better involve in the vibrant I-House life and it will help me pave my way for future intercultural encounters.