Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cultural Bubbles

This week is Missions Emphasis Week at my University. We have representatives from many different mission organizations here, with displays set up so students can talk to them and get more information. We're having special speakers all week. We had a showing of The End of the Spear last night. Some missionaries will be giving devotions before classes (something normally either the teacher does or the students take turns doing). One of the biggest events of MEW every year is Our World Cafe. This consists of student, faculty, and staff getting together and making food from all sorts of different cultures and offering samples to the students. Not only is it free food, but students get chapel credit for it, so people are bound to come (we have to have 38 chapel credits a semester).

I had never been before. Of course I'd heard of it often, as I grew up involved with this University, but I never felt it was my place to go. I don't know why I decided to go this year; I vaguely mentioned I might, and then I was pressured to go, so I went.

I walked in, staying close to my older brother. The first thing I noticed was that the lobby of our performing arts center, where the event was being held, was crammed.

I'm suddenly remembering why I don't go to social events,” I said, somewhat loudly just so my brother could hear.

Yeah, didn't I mention all the crowd navigational skills you'd gain?” he responded.

I quickly got separated from him, as I always do at events like this. I met up with a friend of mine who I've gotten to know at least a little – one of the very few people I've actually become somewhat familiar with at school, and there's an interesting story behind why. Anyway, he's extremely cheerful, and he was very encouraging. I was talking to him when Kalmiel came up from behind and hugged me.

From there everything became a streaked blur. Familiar faces, but so many strange ones. Emerwen was there, as was Draug, and a friend I hadn't seen in some time, and a few people who I'm on “hi, how are you” terms with. There were many different tables with different cultural foods on them, but I didn't eat any of it. Draug forced me to come to the table her mother was working to get a small sweet rice cake (I don't even remember what country it originated from), but that was all I got. I turned around and around in circles, bumping against people. So many hugs from people I barely know – I felt suffocated.

One thing that struck me as I listened to people talk is that they found some of the food exotic or surprising. I find it somewhat hilarious to be around other people my age in a setting where we're exposed to different cultures. I am not exactly well-traveled, but one thing my parents have definitely done as best they can is to teach this American girl how to accept different cultures. I find it hilarious when people are afraid of trying ethnic foods, or do try them and find them weird. There was a lot of that.

I left after a little less than an hour. I had hit my limit long before that, but had waited for the sake of Kal and Draug. One thing struck me afterwards: they project this event as being a way to sample other cultures and understand them better. Instead, it was one of the most American things I have ever seen. All the American kids reacting in American ways. The little social groups moving around, laughing, talking, the noise a dull roar. Social norms I can't understand.

I won't pretend I enjoyed it. I remembered why I go to social events: simply to be reminded how much I hate being around people. But it did provide an interesting picture for me, and also a challenge: how often do I let myself get so absorbed in my own world that I forget everything outside my bubble? Even in the area of music and movies I can get so set on a certain kind of thing that is acceptable in my eyes. What if I actually looked at our world as a whole, a community of people who hurt, who laugh, who love, who cry... rather than as America and a bunch of different countries? And maybe that's a little of what missions is about: breaking out of our cultural mold.

I hope tonight finds you well.

- Elraen -

1 comment:

Any said...

I've never really liked large social groups of people, of that nature, anyway, either. Sounds like you had a blast. :bleah:

I have to say you have some of the most incredibly thought-provoking posts and thoughts. Which made it strange reading while listening to They Might Be Giants...

...but anyway. :)

"One thing struck me afterwards: they project this event as being a way to sample other cultures and understand them better. Instead, it was one of the most American things I have ever seen."

I have ALWAYS thought that about similar types of gatherings. It doesn't seem like it serves the purpose I would expect it to be attempting. But maybe that's just me--I would assume/hope that it's doing /something/ for someone, at least. 0o;;