Culture Shock, part 2

I had some unfinished streams of though from my last post. Mainly, I talked about all the segments of society that I’ve been exposed to and am comfortable with, but I didn’t fully articulate why that was relevant to my new office. So I’d like to do that now. It can be summed up in one phrase:

A lack of diversity

For much of my life, particularly during the teenage and early adult years (which psychologists agree are when worldview is formed and solidified), authorities around me were extolling the virtues of diversity. In high school, I remember Tolerance Days, where we talked about the value of different experiences and preached tolerance for those who were different from us.

As I chose a college, diversity was a big topic on the list of attributes to look for. Schools were eager to prove that they were more diverse than their competitors, and I think mine did well on that front for a private school of its caliber.

I internalized and believed in this. To me, a diversity of students meant a diversity of viewpoints which would be brought to the classroom and that translated into a better, broader education. And I believe that it was. In college I gained comfort and familiarity with many accents and foreign names, taking the time to ask my new Indian and Chinese friends to teach me proper pronunciation of their names. I asked them about their parents and their families and learned about different cultural expectations. I witnessed first hand how those affected the decisions of my peers – in what subjects to study, what social activities to engage in, and even in who to date. To me, this was a valuable social and cultural education earned outside the classroom.

But it was more than that. The wide variance in backgrounds, tastes, and interests combined with the school’s individualistic culture to significantly increase my comfort and confidence in being myself. Not only did I feel less pressure to be like everyone else (because what would that be, really?), but I felt that the culture which championed diversity maybe even went so far as to value my differentness.

Practically speaking, this meant that I grew into a love for my inner geek. I no longer stayed quiet about the computer games I was enjoying or my excitement to visit the science museum. I might excitedly tell others about a new scientific discovery I had learned about. I combined that with a newfound respect for my body, for my appearance as-is – finally dispensing with the strong desire to look like I thought a woman should appear (thin, with some curves, but not too many).

Maybe these are things that everyone feels as they enter young adulthood. But based on my experiences, I suspect that I was even more liberated by the diversity of the community I joined. I’ve also spent time in communities that were probably over 90% white middle class or higher – and it didn’t feel the same.

By being surrounded by difference, I no longer experienced as many assumptions from others about who I was, what my background included, or what I most likely do with my free time. At least that’s how I perceived it.

But now, I feel like my environment at work – my community there – is more like my high school experiences than my college experiences. I perceive less understanding for differentness and more expectation of shared experiences and desires. I can’t help but be strongly reminded of high school community – and who wants to feel like they’re in high school?


One thought on “Culture Shock, part 2

  1. I’m really glad you are articulating this. It is one of the things I enjoyed most moving to Uni and also one of the things I fear most moving into the “workforce”. I’ll be interessted in reading how you deal with this lack of diversity.

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