When I was a kid, I went to the birthday party of a friend who lived in a different town that was known for its affluence. Everything went smoothly until we were sitting around the table gorging ourselves on ice cream cake. The girls around me proceeded to launch into a comprehensive discussion about the size, shape, length and level of grandeur of each of their driveways. As a young and unlicensed 9-year-old, I had never given my driveway much thought. To me, it was merely the flat patch of asphalt that housed my parents’ cars.
If I heard this conversation today, I might have used the opportunity to say that any car or driveway would be considered by many to be a luxury and that we should be grateful for what we had. But in the moment I stayed quiet, worried that saying anything would lead to pitying looks and prying questions about how much money my parents made. I continued to eat my cake while exchanging bewildered looks with my other friend, whom I had carpooled with.
While I can look back at this experience and laugh, I can also acknowledge the discomfort I felt when completely surrounded by people with different life experiences than mine. It is experiences like this one that help me to appreciate the times where I feel seen and heard by people who understand or are enthusiastic to hear about where I am coming from.
When I first learned that I had been accepted to study in Berlin for the 2018 fall semester, I was overjoyed. But as my departure date loomed closer and closer, I began to worry. Traveling abroad as a member of a minority group can be potentially complicated. Would there be people like me on my program? Was I committing myself to spend four and a half months with people who might not be able or willing to understand the nuances of existing in a foreign country as a person of color or someone who may not be straight?
Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived. My program was much more diverse than I could have expected, which has greatly enhanced the experience. The environment is comfortable and I feel no trepidation that people won’t understand the comments I make or the jokes I tell. I have had numerous in-depth conversations about being a minority in both the United States and in Germany. It feels amazing to know that I am not the only person thinking these things and that I am able to both listen to and be heard by people experiencing similar emotions about temporarily living in an unfamiliar place.
Diversity is often deemed important and necessary according to the wants and needs of institutions. Businesses, colleges and advertisers are encouraged to diversify their staff and product in order to reach new markets and establish themselves as seemingly moral entities. If you were to only look at “diversity” from this angle, it would be easy to brush it off as a superficial idea. But it is also important to look at the effect of diversity on the individual. I have often heard from friends and colleagues that they benefit hugely from seeing, interacting with and working with people who look like them or have had similar experiences to them. I can say from experience that being able to talk to someone familiar when things are uncertain goes a long way.
Annick Tabb is a junior double-majoring in political science and English.