April 14, 2010

Crossing Borders - by Trevor D'Silva

Guest post by Trevor D'Silva
Graduate INES Doctorate Student
Submitted as part of the Crossing Borders Writing Contest

How My International Experience has Affected My View of the World
Each person is taught to be proud of their culture, language and traditions and to be patriotic. The fear of being exposed to other cultures and corrupting our individuality, sets up barriers which causes the 'Frog in the Well' syndrome. This fosters stereotyping, prejudice and hatred which many people suffer from.

Being born and raised in a socially and culturally diverse country like India, I thought I possessed a world view during my younger days. My hometown was a microcosm of Indian culture. We had people of various religions, and other regions, living amongst us. Foreign programs and documentaries via cable television, and experiences of friends and relatives abroad led me to develop a mixture of views about people in other countries. I was contented with my life and views and did not want to live, but only possessed dreams of travelling abroad.

The opportunity came in 2001, when I went to Dubai and Europe. I was excited, but with some trepidation. Joining a tour group in Italy, I met poeple from other nations and we lived and travelled together. One thing stood out, that we were all foreigners in a land not our own, willing to overcome inhibitions and be Italians, for a week. This enabled us to live together like one big happy family. I realized what was portrayed in the media about people from other countries was untrue and returned home happy that, my first cross border experience enlightened me.

This satisfying experience, prompted me to pursue higher studies in the United States and I came to UNCC, with diversity as its hallmark. This experience was different because, I was here to study for a few years and was not staying with relatives. Here, I was staying with strangers from different parts of India. In fact, the culture shock came from my own poeple who had different values and ideas. I always thought that people from India had similar values, opinions and thoughts. However, this was not the case. Initially, these differences cause friction, but the beauty of living together as strangers in a foreign land makes one more adaptable and conforming. Opinions and ideas may differ, but when exchanged, we realize that we all pursue happiness. In the words of Anne Frank 'we all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.'

Many foreigners differ, to what level they would like to experience American culture. Due to my first good experience, I decided to give it a go, but was still hesitant. The first time I realized that the stereotype of Americans as uncaring wasn't true, was when I received a package from my brother. Being heavy, I was struggling to carry it and while waiting to cross HWY49, I was amazed when the traffic suddenly stopped to let me cross even though the light was green. The kindness of these strangers made me confident to explore.

When I came out of my cocoon, I realized that America, though rich was no different than any country. Americans are a mixture of rich, poor, open-minded and also apprehensive about other cultures. America has its fair share of crime and violence and though not utopian, yet it is a normal society. As I travelled across the US, I realized that Americans differend in ideas, politics and beliefs, but the goals of working hard and pursuing happiness were the same. Even though, there are ethnic, social and religious diversities, all come under one flag, as 'Americans' Jimmy Carter puts it best by saying 'We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.'

Transitioning to a new culture was not easy. I learned many things the hard way. When talking to my American friend, he said 'I hear you.' I thought he was being rude and telling me to keep quiet. I confronted him and he laughed saying, it means that, he empathizes with me and meant well. This way, I learnt how Americans conversed.

To experience other cultures, I made friends from all over the world and try to learn their language. I discovered that in Korean they say, 'Appa and Amma', for mother and father, just like in some parts of India. Also, some words, in Konkani language of the Catholic community in my hometown, mean the same in Spanish. How wonderful that languages can be similar. If you apply that analogy, people are also similar.

For everyone, the grass appears greener on the other side. People appreciate, but are still hesitant to try different cultures. Instead of building bariers, if poeple could take good values from all cultures, blend and live by them, the world would be a better place. Instead of fighting over whose God is greater, we must realize that God is one. Following the religion of commonsense can lead us to peace and salvation. Basing one's perceptions on somebody else's experiences is wrong and it is good to be analytical, fair and open-minded. Being open-minded has helped me appreciate diversity. This experience enriched my values without destroying my individuality and made me a better person.

People may not treat you well because they stereotype you. This experience can teach us to find the 'saving grace' in them and help foster friendship and break unnecessary stereotypes. Such instances teach us to make life better not only for ourselves but also for others.

Currently, I am pursuing my PhD in environmental engineering. This international experience complements my learning because I realize that, the world is my family and the earth is our home. When using my talents to help the environment, I believe that, I am saving our home and helping my global family. I recommend that everyone crosses borders. This experience though not easy will be a defining moment in one's life. Just as gold purified by fire, so will our hearts and minds be purified by this wonderful experience and enrich us personally.

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