Principia has students from all over the globe. Last year, the College was ranked seventh in the nation for highest percentage of international students among liberal arts colleges, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Recently the club Friendship Around the World (FAW) held a “Let’s Talk!” gathering in the pub so that students could learn about each other’s cultures as well as ask questions, while enjoying international dishes prepared by students.
Why is learning about cultures outside your own important? Individuals from different backgrounds may misunderstand one another because of the lack of knowledge of each other’s culture. Some say everyone is a product of their culture. What is termed taboo in one culture might be an easy thing to talk about in another. For those reasons, FAW’s board members thought that learning about and understanding basic cultural differences is a necessity for our community.
Senior Ashley Douglass, the current president of FAW says that there is always a way to handle misunderstandings of cultural differences. “I think that when we don’t understand each other, instead of putting up barriers and thinking ‘that is just strange’ or by ignoring the issue, we need to address it. I think that when we don’t address it and put up barriers, we are giving up the idea that we are all brothers and sisters and have a right to love and understand one another. So these misunderstandings must be addressed,” she said. “We can address it by doing some cultural research, talking to the person, or by talking to someone that supports the international program, like [International Student Program manager] Marina Byquist. Also, praying to understand our innate unity and to love more deeply help us understand and respect one another so effectively.”
Douglass expressed her satisfaction in seeing how successful and valuable the Pub gathering (activity) was. “It was really helpful to get together with our community and practice asking honest questions and listening respectfully. I felt such a sense of community and that people really cared about understanding one another,” she said. “Everyone was so engaged in their conversations. It was also a lovely way to connect with people I didn’t know.”
Participants said they were inspired by some of the questions discussed in groups. Enrichment student Spencer Binonga, who joined the Principia community this fall and is from the Phillipines, said the event “made me understand why different people around the world act the way they do. Knowing other people’s culture[s] has let me [be] more careful in judging others’ manners and actions.” Another important thing that Binonga learned is that “Americans and other countries love to express their affections through hugs, but in the Philippines, we usually don’t do it.” But Binonga believes that overall, the simple gathering of small groups was “good, with some food and fun.”
Freshman Jamie Yu, a student from China, was happy to have the opportunity to learn about different cultures. “I learned about Brazilians’ hugging habit,” she said.
Douglass commented that the event was like a trip to Africa for her. “One thing I learned from the event is that many cultures in Africa are very community-based. I learned that this culture has high standards of hospitality,” she said. “For example, if someone stops by your house, without warning, the custom is that you are required to invite them in and prepare a meal for them. Also, if you pass by someone on the street and they seem like they want to talk to you, it is expected that you talk with them for as long as they like, even if it makes you late for your next appointment.”
Many students enjoyed the discussions they had on how other cultures view nudity, intimacy and sexuality. Senior Gustavo Batista shared that in Brazil, they are very open about these topics, and they are very much in the media. In Germany, they are also very open about these topics. On the other hand, senior Bamzi Banchiri, a Kenyan student, said that she never sees married couples expressing affection towards one another; she has not even seen her own sister kiss her husband. Other African students from different countries agreed.
Sophomore Lorilyn Tacio is another international student from the Philippines. She was pleased at the event and said, “Being one of the organizers of this event, I believe that the most helpful [advice] we gave to the participants is to break cultural barriers. The aim of this event is to provide cultural awareness to the campus since the [Principia] campus has diversity, [and] to promote the [interconnection] of domestic students and international students despite the different cultural backgrounds.”
Many people said they enjoyed the event and would like to see more of this kind in the future.