Multiculturalism in UK UniversitiesTweet
What are your impressions of the UK? Do you picture Victorian buildings inhabited by people looking prim and proper and speaking the Queen’s English? You might be surprised, but the UK of today is a country of diverse cultures, one quite unlike that portrayed in older books and films. My time studying at the University of St Andrews granted me a small but invaluable window into the increasingly multicultural life of the UK.
With up to 20% of their student populations coming from overseas (1), UK universities give you opportunities to encounter students from all four corners of the world. This is a gift almost as valuable as the education you get in the classroom.
Such a range of cultures mixing and meshing together can present a challenge to students who aren’t used to this. They may feel unsure how to get along with people very different to them. But my first tip for success is to simply start by saying hi! Know that everyone else is just as clueless as you at first. There are plenty of culture nights that allow you to explore outside your comfort zone. My personal favourite was the Polish culture night, not only because the food was so good but because I met my future friend and housemate there. If you find those too limiting, involving yourself in societies and university life in general works just as well.
More importantly, don’t let the worry of making mistakes stop you trying. You may not notice, but we regularly allow room for mistakes for people not from our culture. Think about the foreign exchange students at your school. You help them understand Hong Kong culture because you see them trying and failing. I couldn’t tell Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi customs (and even their people) apart at first, but thanks to my two friends who taught me about their respective cultures, now I do!
At the end of the day, the most important tip I learnt is to keep an open heart and mind, both for those different from us and for ourselves. Having at first stayed within the safety of my dormitory, afraid of judgment about the way I spoke and looked, I learnt that while there are people who will always be critical, there is an equal if not greater number of people from cultures different from yours ready to teach and learn from you. Some might even turn into lifelong friends. And what better place to start than in a university as diverse as those in the UK?