Growing up in the Midlands, a person can consider themselves to be quite cultured; Leicester, Birmingham and Coventry are cities that are rich with traditions from Asia and Eastern Europe. You can have friends from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. However, in comparison with the diversity at UEA, the experience appears sheltered and ‘quintessentially British’. Even when making an effort to immerse oneself in different cultures, people can have a limited view of the world.
Essentially, culture can be reduced to a series of icons, traditions and customs that ‘represent’ a society or nation: for example, British tea-drinking or American fast food. But for some, UEA triggers the realisation that the world they thought they knew, constructed though interactions with these stereotypes throughout their lives, was a place incredibly different to the real world.
For the writer, this all began with a debate with a Hungarian fresher regarding the policies and the importance of the European Union. He was horrified by the condemnation of Edward Heath for joining the EU in 1973 by an avid Euro-sceptic. But this fellow fresher made me realise my ignorance; I’d selfishly become consumed in the sacrifices that the nation has had to make to become a member of the EU, completely forgetting about the nations that have benefitted from its generosity. For example, he explained that in Hungary there have been many improvements in transport systems from their funding. This is a view that is rarely mentioned in the debates that surround British membership of the European Union. Coming to university facilitates this sort of experience for many students, exposing them to the opinions and cultures of the world.
Similarly, stereotypes plague the true understanding of Brits and Americans; Americans are not all burger-eating, opinionated and excitable (okay, they can be quite excitable), just as Brits are not all tea-drinking, suit-clad, conservative individuals.
Stereotypes are culture’s biggest enemy; and even though we, as young people, pride ourselves on being culturally diverse, we still get tricked into believing these common misconceptions are true representations of reality. It is important to remember that we are not only citizens of our own nations; we are citizens of the world too, and that is an incredibly amazing thing.