Diversity among the diverse

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Diversity among the diverse

By Yunjo Jeong

We are at one of the largest universities in the United States with more than 40,000 students. It offers more than 150 programs of study and spans two cities. 

I come from a high school with a student body of less than 500. There were three grade levels, and each grade had about 160 students. 

With no overstatement, I literally knew every student and every teacher in my school. And funny enough, now I am attending a school with a student body size of more than 80 times that of my high school. 

You can imagine how spellbinding it is. I sometimes feel that I’m just living in a town with classes in various parts of the community instead of living on one cohesive college campus.

Among the more than 40,000 students enrolled in the University, nearly 10,000 are international students, with various cultural backgrounds that come from more than 100 different countries.  

Students even come from different parts of the United States, and each state has differing characteristics, although I am unfamiliar with such diversity.

With national and domestic diversity so largely present, it is hard to fathom how diverse the cultural experiences of all students in the mix are. 

Last week I wrote about being a newbie in the United States and how feeling what I had known to be natural for all my life was not necessarily natural anymore. I wrote about how I had a lot to learn from American culture. 

But education goes both ways.

I am a student and, figuratively speaking, America is my teacher. Teachers can learn from students, and I feel American students could also learn so much from the various backgrounds of the international students here. Some international and out-of-state students on campus have never seen snow in their lives; on the other hand, some students indigenous of Illinois may never have seen mountains. 

The University, as large of a school as it is, provides an extremely high number of opportunities; listing a few of them would not even give a hint of the diversity. 

It provides hundreds of courses for students to take, and it provides thousands of students to learn from.  

International students, probably not only me, are learning from American students and their lives. I’m picking up the idiosyncrasies of the culture, which include things like ways of eating, speaking and socializing, just to name a few. 

But American students can learn just as much from the nearly 10,000 of us international students on campus. They could benefit from dipping into our cultures and gain insight from our diversity.

I have seen that international students have formed their own Registered Student Organizations at the University. Interaction with such groups would allow domestic students to experience more than they could from only their studies. 

International student activities are not reserved only for international students, and others should consider participating in them. Maybe then, foreign students wouldn’t seem so foreign to them.

I come from a country in which foreigners are rare. There are barely any international students, and what students in Korea learn of other cultures is nothing more than textbook information. Students on this campus have an opportunity to learn from experience what we had to learn from books. 

Before coming to the University, most American students probably learned about different cultures in the same way — from social studies books. But the University can provide American students — domestic students here — much more than just lectures and grades. 

It can provide the same unique learning environment it does for international students. If they try, Americans can pick up things specific to our customs and backgrounds. 

Companies are starting to look for diversity in their employees. In addition to hiring those who are diverse, they want employees who understand and know about such concepts. By interacting with those of all backgrounds on campus, students are one step ahead of those not afforded the same opportunities. 

The world is not just wherever you particularly are located anymore. Borders are disappearing, and students with a future must prepare for such a new world. 

There are certain things that a large community can provide. The saying “the more the merrier” is so true. With so many students, with so many international students, American students here at the University could also experience something they had never gone through before. 

Take that opportunity and make full use of it.

Yunjo is a freshman in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]