Making friends in a large new community can be a daunting task for incoming college freshmen. In almost no other setting are so many complete strangers thrown together all at once and asked to cohabitate peacefully. I was intimidated during my first semester on campus, but college turned out to be an amazing opportunity to develop rich, diverse friendships.
College offers the unique chance to interact with people from a huge range of backgrounds and cultures, since hundreds of different cultures live, work, and play together within the small space of a college campus. In fact, there are probably students from several different economic backgrounds, nationalities, races, and political views within walking distance of your bedroom now!
Oh, the Ways You Will Grow!
I came from a largely homogenous high school, and like many of us, I grew up with people pretty much just like me. Unfortunately, many of us will spend the rest of our lives that way as well (see Eric Fischer’s depiction in maps of present-day racial segregation). But for a few splendid years of college life, interacting with a wide range of cultures is designed to be a part of everyday life. The experiences we gain from this opportunity are invaluable, and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
So much of the learning we do in college happens outside the classroom. When we are in a diverse setting, interacting with people different from us, we gain new perspectives that help us grow, modify, and strengthen our own ideas. Some of my fondest college memories are of sitting around the dining hall tables for hours talking to the people who would eventually become my closest friends. Those folks helped me see the world with new eyes and grow into who God was calling me to be.
In such a setting, we learn how to navigate life together, despite different values and priorities. We learn more about our history and culture, in a way we cannot achieve in isolation from one another. We learn who we are, not just who we were taught or assumed to be.
We also gain a picture of the richness of God’s creation. We fill our lives with beauty, and we wonder at God’s grand vision for his people. Diverse community on earth is a sneak peek at heaven and all the multitudes of cultures that will be there praising the Lord (Revelation 7:9).
Furthermore, it is in diverse community that we gain a fuller picture of who God is. Your parents, friends, and teachers, for example, each know only a segment of your identity, but the summation of their perspectives might better approximate who you really are. In the same way, we are restricted in our understanding of God’s identity when we limit ourselves to our own background.
Each culture has its own way of interacting and identifying with Jesus. Some may emphasize his teaching, others may highlight his compassion, and still others may focus on his suffering. The many aspects of his character are revealed when our different perspectives come together; we’re reminded how multifaceted he is and thus are able to connect more deeply with him together.
The Importance of Intentionality
But even on a college campus, these opportunities require intentionality. It is still far too easy to interact with the same crowd, and to stay within our comfort zone. Building real relationships requires initiative and, yes, some courage.
Joining campus organizations is a great way to begin to meet new people and to learn about different cultures in a meaningful way. You can also enroll in courses that teach history from a new perspective. Attend concerts and performances that will widen your perception of art. Learn to cook recipes from different countries, or learn worship songs in new languages.
These types of experiences transformed my college experience, and enriched my life. Seeking out these opportunities will open doors to relationships not just during college but also later, as the friendships you form in these years may last a lifetime. What you learn in the context of diverse community will also provide you with the tools to continue living in the fullness of God’s culture-creation, intentionally pursuing God’s heaven lived out on earth well after your college years are finished.
Katelin Hansen (@strngefruit) is an alumna of the University of Richmond InterVarsity undergraduate and Umoja chapters, and is currently a member of InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network at The Ohio State University. She is the editor of By Their Strange Fruit (BTSF), an online forum to facilitate racial justice and reconciliation from a Christ-minded perspective, increasing the visibility of healthy and holy racial discussion.
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