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During my time at the United World College, I have had the opportunity to spend every day of my school life with people from cultures very different from my own. It is hard to think of one specific situation which stands out from the others, but two relationships stand out from the others: Living with a Guatemalan roommate and having an Afghan as one of my best friends. They come from entirely different parts of the world from me, speak totally different languages, and grew up in very different cultures. However, I have come to realize that underneath these differences, there lies a thread of similarities which unite us as people.
The first time I met my Guatemalan roommate, he had just endured 14 hours of traveling which was the longest journey he had ever made. However, upon showing him to our room, I realized we were in for an interesting time. His English went as far as, “Hello, my name is Jonatan, I am pleased to meet you.” My Spanish wasn’t much better either, “Hola, buenas dias, yo soy Shan, como estas?” We worked out a system of pointing and explaining but I gradually learned Spanish from him while his English fared much better, improving in leaps and bounds. Through the tutoring I gave him, along with the English he learnt from teachers and friends, he was able to join the school newspaper and contribute weekly articles. I discovered that through embracing our weaknesses, and learning from each other’s cultures, we were able to improve ourselves much more than we would have without each other.
Abdul is one of my best friends at the United World College of the American West. He was there for me when relatives passed away, when my relationships didn’t turn out as well as expected, and when we had to work through mountains of homework. At the same time, I cannot think of someone who is more culturally different from me. Abdul lives outside a small town in a rural part of Afghanistan. I live in Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city. Abdul learned to shoot and is proficient with a Kalashnikov rifle. I live in a country in which it is illegal to own a pellet gun without a license. Abdul is a devout Muslim, I am a Hindu. If I chose to look at the differences, the gap between us would be unbridgeable and more importantly we could never be best friends.
I believe that Jesus Christ, Krishna, and Allah are all different rivers leading to the same sea. Whether it was the simple things such as sharing a coffee at 2am while working on an assignment, cooking pasta together on a Friday night, or our shared belief that we have the power to make a difference in the world; I have learned that it is often easier to look for the similarities rather than differences when working with people from such different cultures. Abdul wants to study engineering so he can help rebuild his country, while I want to study Humanitarian law so I can fight to protect the rights of individuals who are or have been persecuted. I have come to see that it is not our cultural differences that separate us, but rather our similar beliefs that bring us together.
Living and working through my differences with these two amazing people has taught me that while we all have differences between us, be it religion, culture, or nationality, the similarities between us as people have the power to overcome these differences and result in synergy. The power to become more than the sum of our parts when brought together is the reason I endeavor to go out and bridge the gaps between people of different cultures and myself. Perhaps one day it will be a force with which to end wars. Perhaps one day this force will allow us to be able to solve the world’s greatest problems such as poverty and starvation. I want to continue my education in a place which embraces cultural differences, taking one small step at a time toward making the world a better place.
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