Embracing diversity in all of its forms

Embracing diversity in all of its forms

The UK is one of the most diverse countries in the world, and has a long history of welcoming visitors from around the globe. Julze Alejandre shares what it was like to encounter different cultures, beliefs, and opinions.

If you Google the definition of ‘diversity’, you will be amazed by how broad the word is. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as ‘having a great deal of variety’. Looking further, you will find diversity in various contexts—politics, ethnicity, nature, language. However, for me, diversity means accepting and respecting each other’s differences, no matter how big or small.

Aboard a Boeing 777 to Doha, I was seated next to a Middle Eastern-looking man who seemed perplexed with the boarding process. As soon as he reached his seat, I could not stop thinking about my culture’s stereotypes of Middle Eastern people. However, knowing that it was going to be a long flight, I thought that I should start a conversation with him. I always wanted to go to the Middle East, so I thought that a conversation about where he was from was a good place to start. So I set aside any preconceived notions that I had and made an effort to get to know him. This brief encounter sparked my curiosity about people from other cultures.

scholars

As I met my fellow Chevening Scholars, my small circle started to widen. I learned about their cultures, backgrounds, and dreams. I saw how my Cuban friend loved to salsa dance, and learned about the similarities between Mexican and Filipino culture. I learned that zebra meat is common in Namibia and that Mongolian children are often taught to ride horses at an early age. I tasted the Nepalese momos, which are similar to Filipino siomai. Most importantly, I learned how to value friendship—regardless of how different our beliefs are, we always look to a strong bond that unifies us.

JulzeAlejandre

Having classmates from Canada, China, Ghana, Greece, Malawi, Namibia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Uganda, and Wales was like having an international tour in one classroom. Our professor even asked us to send her our country flags so that she could make a poster out of it to show her colleagues!

But it did not stop there. My bubble grew bigger as Chevening events are full of cultural exchanges. For example, it was on my first assignment as a Social Media Ambassador where I met scholars from the Western Balkans, who taught me that poverty, corruption, unemployment, and conflict exist everywhere, regardless of race and colour. While volunteering, I met American, English, German, Malaysian, and Spanish students, with whom I shared a passion for environmental conservation and youth development.

christmas scholars

Who would have thought that an average-sized kitchen in Glasgow would be kept warm by more than twenty Chevening Scholars from Egypt, Guatemala, Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Senegal, Tunisia (and more) on a cold Christmas Eve?

I learned that Ethiopia was the only uncolonised African nation and that Lesotho is a country within a country. I tasted maté, the popular South American tea, and took salsa lessons with a South African. I ate an authentic Arabian dish with a Jordanian, and sushi with Montenegrins and Serbians. I went on a football tour with a Cambodian, and had a snow fight with scholars from Myanmar, Cape Verde, and Uruguay. I did all of this, and much more.

volunteering

Finally, my sphere became colourful after attending my first Pride in London. Finding myself in a sea of colour, I felt pride in my identity for the first time. The UK truly is a melting pot of cultures, where one learns life lessons that are not taught in universities.

My experience taught me that we must accept and respect our differences; embrace our unique gifts and use them to create ripples of change.

JulzeAlejandre

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