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Challenging assumptions and associations: My multicultural moment

laik012's picture

Switzerland is known to be a neutral country and home to numerous international organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank and Red Cross. As a result, one would assume people living in this country to be open-minded, diverse and non-discriminatory. However, one of my experiences living in Switzerland as an international student challenged my assumptions and demonstrated otherwise. It was frightening enough adjusting to the new temperature, language, people and food. I always had the belief that western teachers were friendly, creative and open to new suggestions. I left Malaysia in seek of a new life, perhaps a hope for a burst of inspiration that would expand my exposure of the world. The International Baccalaureate program allows me to pick a foreign language as one of my six subjects. It was either German or French. I picked French since I was living in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and I thought that the language was easier than German. I remembered entering French class on my first day of school. I was the second student that entered the classroom. The classroom was located in sous-sol, known as basement in English. I remembered how badly-lit and bone-chilling the setting was. When the teacher saw me, she greeted me with a smile and said bonjour. I smile and replied bonjour et merci. In Malaysia, I was always taught the importance of the teacher as an authoritative figure and it was necessary that I remain polite at all times. When all the other students entered, I realized that the majority of the students were Europeans with an exception of one other student from Nigeria. In short, I am the only Asian. We did introductions and she immediately pointed out how much difficulty the Nigerian girl and me would have if we decided to take this course. She mentioned how knowing how to speak Asian languages may hinder our performance in learning a European language. I was quite discourage but decided to challenge myself. After 30 minutes, we had to start a project that requires us to share our goals and reasons for learning French. I was not used to this system of participation and sharing opinions. When it was my turn, I just said I want to learn French because it’s a beautiful language. She immediately turned to me and said “If you are like my previous Asian students who don’t talk much and decide to be a passive student, I suggest you should leave this class now”. I was shocked but I decided that I should not be too sensitive so I stayed in class. Until today, I still believe that I am who I am largely due to my past experiences. I agree with Huang that “when we examine ourselves, we find that who we are and who can become depend in great part upon who we started out to be”. It would be interesting to further examine these types of phenomena when we question whether our identity and background affects our learning style.