One of the most difficult contemporary issues we face is finding our place within a multi-cultural and heterogeneous world. In an effort to locate ourselves within our adult lives it is imperative to confront the aspects of multiculturalism in our formative years. Through my experiences growing up in a cultural diverse community, studying abroad in Spain and working as an educator in Ukraine, I have recognized multiculturalism as a hurdle, but a hurdle worth overcoming to improve the pedagogical process for all participants.
Throughout my primary school education, I was introduced to a wide-range of cultures. With a student body of nearly 1400, we had large populations of Filipino, Chaldean, Chinese, Indian, Sikh, Lebanese, Armenian, among others. In addition to that, having grown up in Detroit I was not naïve to racial differences. In was not until my first semester at university in Columbus, Ohio that I was made aware that my primary education had been a privilege not shared by many of my new peers.
I quickly realized during my study abroad in Granada, Spain that my early exposure to a multicultural learning environment in primary school was not nearly enough to fully understand and appreciate its assets and difficulties—in fact, I found my experience to be merely superficial. It was not until I identified myself as an outsider that I the difficulties my former peers faced were manifested: fitting into the institution, differing cultural nuances, lack of close friendships, communication barriers, sense of isolation, etc. It was also then, culling my prior experiences that I began to see that the things that separated my classmates from myself could actually be used as a bridge in cross-cultural understanding. Though the seed had been planted in seeing the benefits of this type of exchange, it was not really until I was an educator in Ukraine that I saw the totality of the challenge and benefits of cross-cultural exchange.
A specifically profound experience I had while in Ukraine that has influenced my career goals significantly was Survivor Camp. The project, which I helped organize and facilitate, focused on the environment and brought together divergent populations of Ukrainian students from the east and west of Ukraine, as well as a group of American Peace Corps volunteers. Each group came in with their individual prejudices and expectations; however, with a unified goal all groups were able to come together collaboratively to realize this task, while simultaneously breaking down previously held prejudices. Upon departure I saw all the campers exchanging email addresses and Facebook handles, and I had a revelation as to the greater importance of what had been done and why inter-cultural exchange is crucial to the understanding, and thus “survival” of everyone. This moment crystallized the base of where I want to build my education and career.
Life is a sum of the experiences within. Through my life I have learned that life is viewed through a variety of lenses. Within the educational realm I think it is the responsibility of the educator to encourage the exchange of experience and nurture all life experience to unify a diverse student body. It is up to them, as educators, to increase, utilize and diversify the students’ lenses they use to observe life. I truly believe that the best way to achieve this is through multi-cultural experience. By bringing together cultures, and further using diversity as an asset is a challenge that I am eager to embrace in an effort for all participants to be better prepared for the increasing global interconnectedness of modern society.