Sharing culture, championing diversity at the University of Southampton, UK

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Source: Southampton University IndoSoc Facebook

Our roots and heritage are embedded within us wherever we go. As we travel the world and meet new people, we will also be exposed to different forms of culture that are different from ours. Our columnist Novelita W. Mondamina (Veli) shares her experience while being a graduate student at the University of Southampton, UK, where she met and exchanged cultures with fellow students of different backgrounds. Let’s delve into her story as we celebrate Indonesia Mengglobal’s 8th year anniversary, themed “Embracing Your Roots Beyond Borders.”

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Studying abroad means we will have a chance to know better about the world and experience various cultures across continents. I experienced this form diversity starting in my classroom, at the University of Southampton, UK. There were 12 students coming from different countries, including Greece, China, Mexico, and Brazil. We met almost every day, studying together and socializing, so our interaction was quite intense.

Veli and her class mates after class
Veli posing with her classmates, local and international students alike. Source: author’s documentation

Our cultural differences naturally influenced how we communicated with each other. For example, when we worked together for a group task, we had to consider our different bearings, habits, values, and even accents to avoid any misunderstanding. What I got from this experience is that, when we learn about and try to understand other people’s cultures, we will come to appreciate and even develop alternative views to our everyday problems. To me, this is a positive exposure that will ultimately contribute to personal and professional growth.

Eating together after finishing group task
Veli and her friends sharing a meal after finishing a group task. Source: author’s documentation

My experience with diversity also occured outside classroom. During the summer of 2016, the Indonesian students association on campus, Persatuan Pelajar Indonesia (PPI) Southampton (also knows as the Indonesian Society or IndoSoc), participated in an event called Global Village. This event brought together international societies on campus to celebrate and showcase the university’s diverse student body. Organized by the University of Southampton Students’ Union, it’s a fun social with lots of free food, games and activities to try.

This event gave IndoSoc an opportunity to showcase Indonesia’s rich culture and traditions. We introduced Indonesian traditional dance, music, and even games! Prior to D-day, IndoSoc members practiced a traditional dance remix together. It was because at the end of the event, each society was welcome to perform their signature music or dance act in front of an audience in an open field.

IndoSoc members with their traditional clothes: Sundanese and Balinese. Source: Southampton University IndoSoc Facebook
IndoSoc members in traditional Sundanese and Balinese costumes. Source: Southampton University IndoSoc Facebook

Each society prepped a stall or booth to showcase their country, much like in a fair or an exhibition. IndoSoc’s was decorated with batik of varying patterns, the country flag, traditional games like congklak, traditional Javanese headdress (blankon), and postcards. All IndoSoc members also wore batik, except for some of us who specially wore Balinese, Sundanese, or Javanese traditional clothing to be our walking models of the day.

IndoSoc stall in Global Village. Source: Southampton University IndoSoc Facebook
IndoSoc booth at the Global Village event, University of Southampton. Source: Southampton University IndoSoc Facebook

When people came to our booth, they were invited to learn and play congklak together. To make it more fun, the winner was allowed to draw on the loser’s face with crayons. Members of IndoSoc also briefly explained about Indonesian heritage, such as batik, and how the different batik patterns carry their own philosophical meanings. Last but not least, we invited attendants to take pictures together with a batik-adorned photo frame.

Apart from IndoSoc, there were dozens of other international communities, such as the Pakistani, Malaysian, Bruneian, Filipino, Lebanese, Polish, and Omani society. IndoSoc members took turn to man their booth to get the chance of visiting others, tasting other traditional food items and conversing about their cultures as well.

Members of the Indonesian students society (IndoSoc) manning their booth, promoting Indonesian culture to fellow students at the Global Village event, University of Southampton, UK
IndoSoc members manning their booth, promoting Indonesian culture to fellow students at the Global Village event. Source: Southampton University IndoSoc Facebook

Now, I do believe that hard work never betrays us. The IndoSoc society indeed worked hard to prepare the stall and rehearse the dance routine. As a reward, we won first place in the Global Village competition! I wondered how we had edged out the other participants, but I believed the members’ total effort by wearing traditional clothes and make-up made a big difference. Another factor, I think, would be our friendly and cheery attitude when interacting with other students.

First winner of Global Village Event. Source: Southampton University IndoSoc Facebook
IndoSoc won 1st place prize in the 2016 Global Village competition! Source: Southampton University IndoSoc Facebook

The 1st place prize was the cherry on top of our wonderful Global Village experience. Through this event, we had the opportunity to engage and exchange cultural knowledge with the diverse student body on campus. Moments like this enrich our studying abroad experience not only with deepened appreciation of other people’s culture, but also with gratitute and reinvigorated love for our own.

May this also be a reminder for us to celebrate diversity in all its forms. Surely the world is more fun with different kinds of people in it!