When I was a kid, probably around five years old, our grandparents gave us a Childcraft encyclopaedia set. It has 17 volumes plus a child’s dictionary and a child’s atlas. Being the biggest book on the set, I took on the atlas straight away. I was amazed to find coloured maps of all the countries in the world, together with the national capitals, the national flags, and especially coloured pictures to give the kiddie reader a feel of what can be seen in that country. The atlas gave me an appreciation and fascination for different cultures at a young age, and ever since I always wished to meet people from around the world.
Indeed, we are now living in a highly globalised world. Television channels show a wide diversity of programmes from all over the world. Radio stations play songs from different countries. And social media has allowed everyone to connect with each other. Each person in the world has an opportunity to not only learn about different cultures but also find a way to bring cultures together under one common goal.
But what is it like to be united in a truly diverse, globalised society? I have accidentally acquired the answer to this question when I enrolled in Victoria University for my postgraduate studies. I have hoped (but not expected that much) that I would meet at least one person from a different country other than the Philippines or New Zealand during my stay in Vic, even though I have already made contacts (mostly business) with some people from other countries even before I moved to New Zealand.
But surprise, surprise. When we were asked to talk to our seatmate during the postgraduate orientation programme, I shared experiences with a psychology student from Colombia. Then more get-to-know-each-other activities came and I was able to meet with other students from parts of Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. When I arrived at my first class, I’ve met more international students that are taking the same programme, mostly scholars from South East Asia.
As the first semester went on, I’ve met a group of international students in a jazz bar in Te Aro. I was introduced to the group by my classmate and good friend Vincent, an exchange student from the Netherlands. Ever since that night I’ve been invited to their music jams, parties, and other get-togethers. Despite coming from different countries, different cultures, we really clicked together, united by friendship, fun, academic life, and, to an extent, the FIFA World Cup.
And with the bond I formed with these international students, I saw that there is so much power in connection and unity that should go beyond obvious diversity. Having a friend from different countries opened new horizons for me. Knowing their cultures and traditions even opened a plethora of wonderful opportunities. And with these horizons and opportunities, I realised that the key to a united world is one that is made of respect and open-mindedness.
Some of my international friends may not know it, but they definitely changed my life forever. And because of these wonderful experiences I will never see that atlas book again the same way I did when I was a kid. I shall see it not with amazement anymore, but with reminiscing and probably a Grinch-like smile on my face, and say, “Oh that’s where my friend lives!”
Indeed, Louis Armstrong was right. What a wonderful world!