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Culture and Religion

Similarities and Differences at One World Day

“People are all the same. We all recognize one another's emotions, want our kids to grow up happy, and can imagine ourselves in someone else's shoes. But are we truly the same? Well then, how many Germans does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

By: Melinde Bussemaker

Cultural psychologist and Assistant Professor Michael Bender's question during the opening of One
World Day on Thursday, October 26 catches his audience off guard. The answer? “One German. Because we're highly efficient and have no sense of humor,” quips the German-born academic. People are different, and so are cultures. “We capture those differences in stereotypes so that our brains can process them. That's dangerous though, because a stereotype tells you nothing about the individual. After all, not every German is efficient and unfunny.” The question is, how can we understand one another better without getting stranded in stereotypes? “By connecting with each other on a personal level, as equals, working together with a common objective and under a single authority. And that's precisely what we're doing at One World Day.”

Cultural Taster

One World Day is the brainchild of two student associations, Asset IB&M and I*ESN. As Erik Ruhof explains, “We want students to get a taste, literally and figuratively, of one another's cultures. We'll have achieved our goal if at the end of today people have learned something about another person.” As part of the broader program of festivities organized to celebrate Tilburg University's 90 th anniversary this year, One World Day ties in perfectly with the anniversary motto of “connecting people and knowledge.”

Hello, how are you?

Among the participants is a Romanian student who says she sees this as an opportunity to get to grips with the diverse cultures of students in her year. A student from South Africa echoes her sentiments. On arriving in the Netherlands two month ago, she experienced quite a culture shock. “I'm used to saying hello to everybody and asking how they are, but people here don't do that. It felt rude to me, but now I've learned that, here, you only say hello to people you already know. And also that asking somebody how they are is a serious question, so be prepared for a detailed report! That can also lead to some interesting conversations though. By now, the cashiers at my supermarket are used to me greeting them, and greet me back.” A student from Italy who has also spent a year studying in Argentina admits that getting used to Dutch ways was an adjustment for him, too. “It's so quiet in the corridors here, I'm not used to that.” On the plus side, however, is the informality between teaching staff and students. “In Italy and Argentina it would be unheard of to contradict your professors. But here it's fine, and I like that.”'

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Conversation, Collaboration, and Laughter

One World Day also included a range of workshops on everything from salsa dancing to playing the djembe, and from calligraphy to painting clogs to making henna. Waiting for the workshops to start, most students stand around wrapped up in their own thoughts or their smartphones, but rapidly this gives way to conversations, collaboration, and laughter. Learning to play the djembe and five minutes later drumming an infectious African beat together can't help but forge a bond. Similarly, it's fun – or, for the less coordinated, funny – to swing your hips together to the rhythms of the South American salsa.

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A Clean Teacup

For a break from the exhilaration of dancing, there's the peaceful serenity of meditation, in a workshop that gives participants a brief introduction to the basics of Buddhism. Demonstrated by the Dalai Lama himself during his visit to the Netherlands three years ago, “nine round breathing” helps students to calm their brains and open themselves up to outside influences. Yoga instructor and Buddhist practitioner Hans Op den Buijsch explains to them how you go about opening yourself to others. “If you're not open to other people, you're like an upside-down teacup. Or, if you listen but what they say goes in one ear and out the other, you're a teacup with a hole in it. And if you listen but meanwhile are thinking about what you want to say, you're a dirty teacup. So,” he concludes, “strive to be a clean teacup.”

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Differences in Filters, Mourning, and Communication

Besides having a good time and getting to know other cultures, One World Day also lets participants delve deeper into cultural differences. For instance, did you know that you're living in a filter bubble?With Facebook knowing your preferences and interests, it just gives you more of the same. The risk, says Assistant Professor Piia Varis, is that you assume – wrongly – that you're getting a complete picture of the world. Researcher William Arfman delves into differences in how we deal with grief. To
make his point, he cites the diverse mourning rituals following the Bijlmer and MH17 plane crashes. In another lecture, lecturer Amy Hsiao unpicks differences in communication in Western versus Eastern cultures. For example, Westerners, when introducing themselves, refer to their roles, jobs, and hobbies, whereas people from the Far East tend to refer to their family and relationships. They attach greater importance to situational contexts, while Westerners put more value on words. And whereas people in the West are more direct, people in the Far East come at things more indirectly. However, these are all stereotypes, and they certainly don't apply to everyone. Nonetheless, knowing these differences can help us to understand one another better.

Making Real Contact

The day rounds off with a debate on the internationalization of Tilburg University – an institution that, 90 years since its foundation, is home to at least a hundred nationalities. After that, it's time to taste some other cultures, literally! There are cuisines from all around the world to satisfy the hungry crowd, spiced up by conversation among students of every nationality. One World Day is all about connecting people, after all, and in that it has certainly succeeded. Here's hoping for another edition next year!