In today’s society, there remains striking debates on ethnicity, social class and religion. It was not that long ago blacks were legally separated from whites in the United States and the apartheid regime raged in South Africa. Immigrants were scrutinized with extreme suspicion and women were looked at with derision. Many of these same practices still exist somewhat, although society and the world have evolved. Universities or schools alike, being the natural mirror for society at large, are examples of the principal incubators of diversity because of their admission of students from a variety of ethnicities, religions, political persuasions, social classes, and nationalities.
Diversity in and of itself is quite unique and most interesting because of the value added effect that is applied in terms of the richness of experiences one can derive. My own life experience throughout my formative years living in a different country has taught me the importance of what it is to live in a diverse environment.
At the age of thirteen, I was shipped off by my mother to Jamaica to start my high school education. My mother, of Jamaican birthright, believed that I would be more academically grounded, acquire knowledge about Jamaica’s rich and diverse culture, and that I would be able to better connect with my relatives there if I began my higher education there. I must admit that leaving the confines and comforts of the United States caused somewhat mixed reactions for me. However, my introduction to the Jamaican society transformed my entire outlook on life and relationships with people from varying backgrounds.
Jamaica’s motto, “out of many, one people,” truly embraces the meaning of togetherness. On my first day of high school, I was warmly welcomed and received by teachers and students alike. Classes were filled with a diverse mixture of students; this is due to the fact that in the early years, the island was inhabited by many racial groups, and still carries vestiges of its colonial past. School uniforms are mandatory for every student whether in public or private schools; this therefore, could not tell who came from a monied background or from the lower echelon of society. We all had to gather in the mornings for devotions. Surprisingly, it did not matter which religious sect one came from; everyone participated, either by a show of attendance or by full praise worship.
Outside of school, one would see people – young, old, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, black, or white. Asians and East Indians would be playing dominoes or cards at a local corner shop; there would be raucous, yet jubilant sounds of men in the betting shop; some would stagger with defeat and empty pockets and others would show shimmering joy on their faces. The dancehall, which showcases the ingenuity and kaleidoscopic energy that beckons its debauchery and hedonistic appeal, serves as a gateway for integration of the masses.
Within the community that I lived, residents were diverse either by physical appearance, religious conviction, domicile and level of education. However, there was a tremendous sense of caring for each other; they would assist in babysitting the young, offered various delicacies, and watched with a keen eye, for any prowlers that may enter each other’s premise.
My experience living in Jamaica over those four years has taught me how to truly appreciate persons from different backgrounds and to further broaden my horizon on aspects of persons’ culture, religion, and ideological thought that was either hidden or thwarted.
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