Whether you were raised in a big city with a mixture of many ethnic groups and cultures, or in a small town where everyone seemed similar in background and experience, your life is about to change when you go to college. You will be more independent and more responsible for your reaction to and acceptance of people from other cultures and backgrounds. And the sooner you learn to deal with this reality, the more successful, your career and life will be.
Even the smallest, most out of the way colleges in the U.S. today have a multicultural mix of students on campus, and professors and administrative staff all come from a different background. Seek out ways to gain exposure to these people and keep an open mind. Remember that what is familiar to you may seem odd to others and the same is true when you approach people of other religions and cultures. It will take a while for you to adjust and you may have to watch, listen and learn in order to figure it out.
If there are courses in your school curriculum that will help you study and understand the history of other cultures and countries, take those courses. Travel if you can. That is the best way to learn about other countries and to realize the rich history and opportunity available to you.
If your dorm buddies hail from other countries or cultures, ask them questions (try to be sensitive and do not offend them, but show genuine interest) about their country and their upbringing and what is traditional for them. Ask how YOU can help them understand your culture better if they are interested in doing so. Open the lines of communication. Even those students who were born in the U.S. may have a very different experience than your life experience. Perhaps you were raised in a big city and they were raised on a farm. Find out about people and remember that just because you do something a certain way, or believe a certain thing, does not make it cast in stone. There are many opinions, values and beliefs in this world and all have value. All people are entitled to their way of life.
Most people will forgive mistakes and misunderstandings if they know you are trying to learn and understand. Don’t expect that everyone will bend to your way of thinking. Join clubs that encourage multicultural exchange. Attend a religious service with a friend from another faith and observe and learn to respect their beliefs and ways.
If you can truly learn respect for and tolerance for others, they will be more open to you as a person and to understanding your beliefs and values and your generation will build a better world: one where we can resolve our misunderstandings and differences through open dialogue and respect.