During my freshman year of college, I was in a class where the discussion turned to the ancient philosophers who tried to justify the existence of God. One student, who happened to be from Samoa, asked what the professor meant by God, and the professor asked her if she believed in God. She said she believed in Christ and his atonement, but she had never been taught to believe in a god as the creator of the world.
This was different from the perspective I had gained through my Christian upbringing, but it completely refocused our class discussion on the early philosophers who tried to define the cosmos with an ultimate creator. I learned why these philosophers struggled with the idea of a god; it was not as straightforward to them as it was to me.
It was exactly the kind of experience I had hoped for when I chose Westminster College, the only private college in Utah that is also nondenominational. The first time I was on campus, I saw a large variety of people who accepted each other, and I understood tolerance to be one of the ideals the college furthered. I knew it would be a good experience for me to associate with people of diverse ages, ethnicities, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds, because I had been raised in a very sheltered community where most of the residents were, like my family, Mormons.
I recently read an essay by a college professor about the difference between the college education she received and the education one might receive today. She recalls that the classes she took were based on the history of Europe and America. The non-European-American students were there to learn Western traditions. Today, she writes, her classes form a whole that is greater than the sum of its individual parts because the students of different cultural backgrounds collaborate.
The essay prompted me to examine my high school experience in the light of my vastly different world at college.
"European" and "American" describe my high school curriculum perfectly. In fact, some students tended to degrade and ignore the students who tried to share their different cultures. At Westminster, on the other hand, my classmates enjoy listening to and learning from those who may previously have seemed foreign.
The multicultural coursework offered here has also been extremely valuable. I have found some of my most interesting and useful classes to be those that focused on Asian and Hispanic cultures. I am a Spanish minor and have enjoyed learning about the Spanish and Latino cultures even more than learning the language. I have also learned about ancient China's contribution to science, and realized that the Europeans did not make all the scientific advancements in the Renaissance.
I loved my class on Japanese literature, because I discovered an entirely different aesthetic at work that was just as beautiful as the one I was used to. I can incorporate those ideas into my lessons on the literature and history of America and Britain, finding common threads as well as rich differences.
Coming from a sheltered community, I encountered a major culture shock when I moved to Salt Lake City and started at Westminster College. Now that the shock has worn off, I realize I have changed. I am more understanding of others and not as narrow-minded as I used to be. I think I have become a better person.
*Susan Starkweather is a junior English major at Westminster College in Salt Lake City and is planning to work in the field of journalism.
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