My home-away-from-home on the University of the Philippines campus is a special little dormitory named “International Center.” As you can guess by the title, International Center (IC) is home to many of the international students that attend UP. The resident body is diverse, with about 26 different nationalities represented within the 150 total residents.
Living in IC offers the kind of diversity you can’t even find in America, the fabled “melting-pot.” In America, most of the people are there to settle – they have, or are in the process, of assimilating into the culture. They have a distinct cultural background, yes, but they are still hyphen-Americans.
On the other hand, the residents of IC are mostly of unhyphenated culture. They are just passing through the Philippines (with the exception of the Filipinos who live in IC), so their cultural views and tastes are singular. They are truly representatives of their countries.
In the short time that I have been in IC, I have made friends with Koreans, Filipinos, Japanese, Pakistanis, Indians, Laosians, Thai, Congolese, and many more. It is fascinating that we can manage to find common ground on so many things besides our mutual language, English.
I have learned little things about differences in life around the globe:
- Korean males have a two-year mandatory stint in the military, which delays their college educations. It is common for them to graduate on-time from undergraduate study at the age of 25 or 26.
- The Korean and Japanese languages are extremely similar, and Pakistanis and Indians speak the same main language.
- Koreans really like the Filipino dish Tapsilog.
Perhaps the residents of IC are not as cohesive as those from other residence halls – the different ethnic groups are sometimes very cliqey, preferring to hang out with their own kind. And IC isn’t exactly the prettiest dormitory – before it was recently repaired, the lobby roof leaked in several places, dripping water ever, including onto the now-broken TV. And of course, disagreements happen. However, the residents are usually very friendly and make an effort to befriend whoever they might meet sitting on a couch in the lobby or cooking in the communal kitchen.
Like in any dormitory, life in IC is a continuing social (and in this case ethnic) experiment. The fact that people from such diverse ethnic, national, and cultural backgrounds can come together and live under one roof is an inspiring sentiment in a world where people often look upon their neighbors with contempt and distrust.