Connecting across cultures
Recently a friend of mine, Diego, who is an international student from Bolivia studying at Concordia, invited me to an event at Club Empire on Crescent Street celebrating cultural diversity and multiculturalism at Concordia.
The event was the closing party for the International/Ethnic Association Council’s Cultural Diversity Week held from January 23 to 28. The I/EAC is an umbrella association that represents a whole slew of cultural student clubs at Concordia.
The first person I spoke with at the event was Giuseppe de Cesare, an international student from Italy majoring in anthropology. Having spent his whole life in Rome, Guiseppe decided one day he wanted a change.
So he came to Montreal and enrolled in Cegep. He liked it so much, he decided to continue his education here. “What’s special about Montreal is that you don’t have to go to another country to meet or study a different ethnicity. It gives you an international flavour,” he told me.
Fascinated by his story, I started asking other people about their origins. Keny Toto, a member of the Concordia International Student Association (CISA), was born in Montreal but moved back to the Democratic Republic of Congo with his family. “We left [the Congo] when the war started in 1997 to live in Germany with my grandparents. Then I came back to Montreal to start university.”
Toto turned the interview around and asked me a question. How many nationalities attend Concordia? I really had no clue. “Over 140 nationalities,” he quipped proudly.
Catching the echo of Parisian French, I followed my ears and met a group of young women from Paris. Shortly after introducing myself, I mentioned that I have applied to Sciences Po, a French university specializing in humanities and social sciences, but admitted that I have no clue about French culture.
One of the women, Melanie Yasfi, a major in International Business, assured me that France is not that much different from Quebec. I asked her what she enjoyed most about the event: “The people who dress up in their cultural clothes,” she beamed.
A student dressed up as an Indian belly dancer said hello to me. It was my old friend, Aditi Dixit. “What are you dressed up as?” I asked naively. “I’m Indian!” my friend replied. Dixit introduced me to a friend of hers, Michele Flattery. They are both studying contemporary dance at Concordia. Flattery was born in Saint-Sauveur but grew up in Halifax. “I have been dancing since the age of three, and I had my heart set on Concordia for a long time,” she told me.
I got a chance to chat with the organizers Cedric Tzeuton and Marvin Coleby when they took a break from running around. I learned they were both born in France. Tzeuton’s family originated from Cameroon, while Coleby’s spent many years in the Bahamas. I asked them both what was most fulfilling about the night. “Concordia is a good ecosystem of diverse cultures,” said Tzeuton.
“Until this week, I never realized how passionate students were about cultural diversity,” added Coleby.
That night at the event, I noticed how each person’s face seemed to light up when I asked about their cultural roots and upbringing. Talking about cultural experiences never fails to break the ice in opening up a conversation between people. For strangers coming together, such conversations provide a window of opportunity to connect, almost like magic.
How do you break the ice in a conversation?
• Concordia International Students Association