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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Debunking pre-conceived notions

Published: September 27, 2013
Section: Opinions

There are few things about this school I have come to appreciate more than how characteristically diverse it is. When I first came, I expected to be greeted with a sea of kippahs strewn across everyone’s heads, hearing a constant susurrus of Boston accents buzzing through the air. I had heard that a large portion of the student body at this university was Jewish, and that it was one of your standard private East Coast universities. I, who never really thought about college before actually attending it, had imagined it occupied by a much more homogenous, plain body of people than it actually was.

Though a small fraction of the people I have met over the past few weeks have fit the original mold I expected, I found that many more of them have surprised me by just how sharply they deviated from my initial (albeit ignorant) expectations. Apart from the considerable fraction of students from New England, I’ve met students from Washington, Oregon, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Georgia, California and Minnesota. Such a varied melange of different backgrounds and ancestries can sometimes lead to otherwise unlikely, surprising interactions.

Consider the ultra-liberal Texan and his Muslim roommate or other uncannily sitcom-worthy housing combinations that have occurred. Consider me and my roommate. For instance, I consider myself, more or less, to be a thoroughly Americanized guy of Chinese descent. My roommate, however, embraces his Chinese ancestry.

I’m glad he is my roommate. He is polite when navigating through the cultural differences that separate the US from China and he has, along with a few other international students, agreed to help me improve my Chinese in light of how I currently possess the vocabulary of an eight-year-old. Since rooming with him, I’ve also learned that he knows kung fu and once attempted to bring a broadsword aboard a plane. He acted as my dorm hall’s pastor and read a psalm from a Chinese Bible during the funeral of my hall’s community fish, somberly paving its ethereal passage into heaven in one of the most surreal episodes of my life.

Aside from my roommate, the rest of the international presence here is incredibly prominent. Greeks, Kenyans, Spaniards, Panamanians, Venezuelans, Indians, Iranians, South Koreans, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Italians, Americans and, of course, mainland Chinese, are all shuffling about the same space and bumping into each other. It’s something I enjoy immensely. Since coming here, I’ve been able to get a lot of progress done on a particular project I’ve been working on for the past year: learning how to say chicken in three hundred languages. I tell you, going to school here helped me out quite a bit. In fact, I came to an agreement with more than just a few international Chinese students in which I’d attempt to speak to them in my broken Chinese while they spoke in English—an arrangement I figured would make everyone happier.

There are also the different religious groups represented here. Though many people here practice Judaism, I’ve also met up with those who follow Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism or even Germanic Paganism.

I just had to learn more about the last one. I was lucky enough to bump into a student in my fencing class. When I discussed his religious beliefs, I jokingly asked whether he sacrificed goats and drank their blood, to which he replied “We actually sprinkle the blood on ourselves instead.” At first I thought he was joking, but then he went on to casually describe how he was part of a small community in America numbering around ten thousand dedicated to an extremely new, modernized “revival” of pagan religion. These days, he says, most people make little tributes of wine or “really good tea” to gods like Woden in a ritual called libation – or the offering of consumable liquids to certain pagan gods – rather than sacrifice live animals. He also said he couldn’t really offer wine yet either, because he’s under twenty-one and can’t legally buy it.

I’ve met a quite a few fascinating people at Brandeis. Whether we’re of different ethnicity, nationality, religion or any other label, I can confirm that we’re like a mosaic of cultural harmony. Though we’re a small school, we certainly don’t fall short on diversity.