In a community where diversity is prevalent, I am often surprised with how little time we take to get to know and embrace those who are not exactly like us.
In instances where someone sitting next to us may be an extremely interesting person, we keep to ourselves or turn to a more familiar face. Are we scared of the differences that exist, or simply scared to branch out? Do we associate with those who have obvious similarities because of our common interests or because it’s easier?
The evidence is easily accessible; venture to a high school cafeteria during lunch and it only takes one glance to notice that many students are hanging out with people who are similar to them. Take any student, and chances are that his or her closest group of friends are all the same age, wear the same kind of clothes, have the same relative intelligence, and participate in the same extra-curricular activities. They may even be from the same racial and religious backgrounds and share their basic values and beliefs.
It makes sense that we would gravitate towards people like us. It’s comfortable. It’s safe. And when searching for friends, having common ground is important. You need to be able to discuss and partake in things and activities that interest you both.
But sometimes we assume that people that look like us and dress like us automatically are involved in the same things and of course, that isn’t always true. Another myth is that people who don’t look and dress like us, who don’t take the same classes in school, or who don’t share all the same beliefs can’t have anything in common with us.
Last year, for my school’s newspaper, I was tasked with interviewing four students who had moved to the United States from all around the world. Going into the interviews, I wasn’t sure that I would find anything that interested me. I was wrong.
I ended up interviewing four students of all ages who had immigrated to the United States from Egypt, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and Chile. All of their stories captivated me and I was amazed to discover that such fascinating people, who I would never otherwise take the time to talk with, were sharing the halls with me everyday.
One student had endured an eleven-hour plane ride with a family of 10; one had arrived in the States not knowing a word of English; one was a great soccer player; and one hoped to one day be a fashion designer.
I felt ashamed that I had never taken a chance to get to know these kids and so many more. Sure, we didn’t look the same and we certainly didn’t come from the same part of the world but we did have so many other little things in common and I found that it was enough to make for enjoyable conversation.
A few months after the interviews, I attended a summer field hockey camp with my team. The camp was located in Pennsylvania, but many members of the staff were international players from all over the world. I was delighted and surprised to discover that despite being separated by languages, oceans, and many miles, these field hockey camp counselors shared many things both with each other and with the campers. The most obvious common ground was field hockey. These were people from all over the globe. They had different friends, different ways of life, and different languages.
But on the field, it was all the same; a pass was a pass, a hit was a hit, and a goal was a goal. It was amazing how people so different could be connected through a simple game.
After a few hockey games and some deeper conversation, I also found that my teammates and my counselors had more than just a love for a sport in common. We could make each other laugh, which was surprising since our first languages were all different. And we found that we all enjoyed the same music and the same movies.
The same thing is true for both the students that I interviewed and the counselors I met at camp: once you start celebrating each other’s differences, you’ll find that you actually have many things in common. Now I know people who I can talk to about things that interest us both, but who can also teach me new things and expand my horizons.
I asked all four of the students I interviewed for newspaper to share with me a lesson that they had learned through transitioning into Quince Orchard High School and the United States.
“I learned that the world is much bigger than I once thought it was,” one of the students said.
I think that if all of us can learn, accept, and embrace this fact, then we will eventually be able to accept and embrace each other as well.