Trine Blogs: Culture me conflicted!

Trine blogsSometimes it’s really hard being a student. It’s not just the workload*. It’s not just trying to eat healthily (or eat at all) and surviving on a tiny budget. It’s not just the homesickness, the sense of impending doom every time a deadline closes in on you, or trying to figure out if it’s immoral to just take the free chocolate and bypass the flyer for yet another faceless student union that came with it.

(*someone told me that Tilburg University prides itself on giving its students harder workloads than other universities. I wish I’d known that, at least I’d been somewhat prepared!)

What I find hard about being a student right now is all the internal conflicts my study provokes. I study culture. I study how cultures work together, or don’t work together at all; what some old fart somewhere says about culture that is very different (apparently) from what the other old fart on the opposite side of the world says about culture; or what makes some cultures dislike, or even hate, other cultures (pick a culture, any culture). I study whether culture is bound to countries, and if not, what is it bound to then? Who decides what a culture is, who decides if you can be a member, and who decides “they” can’t play with “us” because “they’ve” got cooties? I study myself – am I any different from the close-minded bigots I resent so much, precisely because I resent them?

One thing is looking at all these ideologies and theories from an academical point of view. Another is actually taking your eyes from the books, looking out your window, reading the paper, watching the news (as much for bias and propaganda as for actual news) and observing the people on the street. And this is where my inner turmoil starts.

I get angry. I get depressed. I start despairing. I read about countries, nations, cultures, ethnic groups, who don’t like the “other”. Who deliberately instill fear in their group members, their citizens, their countrymen, due to frustration, greed, anxiety, hatred or all the above. I wonder how on earth we will ever be able to make a difference in a world where people are so focused on power and money, and most importantly, so focused on themselves.

I wonder if it’s all for nothing, and if I shouldn’t just try to make the best of it until some idiot accidentally sets of a nuclear bomb that wipes out humanity (which is my world eradication scenario of choice, with the sun exploding coming in as a close second). I wonder if I am just another naïve youth who thinks she can actually change a world where the public debate warns: “Careful of the Big Bad Muslim/Western/Communist/Capitalist/Fundamentalist/Religious/Hippie Wolf, he’s out to destroy you and everything you hold dear”. In a world so big where I feel so small, I only see a faint light at the end of the tunnel, and I pray and pray that it’s not a freight train coming at me with full speed.

But isn’t that why we’re all here? Studying economics, culture, law, religion, human resource management, communication, to make it better? I think our naïvité is what will help us in the end; the driving force, the optimistic notion that we can make a difference. We have to believe this, otherwise there would be no point to anything. And in a place like this university where students from different countries and backgrounds get together, I think this is where the first steps are taken toward a better tomorrow. Even just trying to understand why Jan, Yaroslav or Amina behave and think like they do goes a long way.

Sometimes I get stuck in thought.

Now. Could someone tell me how to ethically get hold of all those free samples, sweets and miniature Coke cans without getting stuck with enough flyers to build a paper plane army?

Trine Larsen (23) from Denmark studies Management of Cultural Diversity at Tilburg University and blogs for Univers.

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