When I was an AIESECer in Uppsala, one of my many assignments was holding preparation seminars for the students who are about to embark on foreign internships. I still remember myself teaching about the W-shaped curve of cultural shock: in your first 4 weeks after arrival, you will consider everything about your host country wonderful. This is the so-called honeymoon period. The initial high of the new experience will soon be replaced by a period when you get accustomed to your new home, a time characterized by low self-esteem, isolation and even depression. Eventually, the psychological abyss will turn into a dale. Once you fully understand, master and embrace the culture of your host, things get better.
I am in the honeymoon period. Forget about the ravaging swine flu on campus (520 confirmed cases so far), and the fact that H1N1 has already taken one Cornellian from us. Forget about the social barrier between the exchange students and the American juniors and seniors who already formed their circle of friends. Forget about what people say about American idiots, the Christian fundamentalists, the hillbillies from Texas. Despite my sleep deprivation (common among Ivy League students), occasional up-and-downs of my mood, I can tell you: Cornell is the best place I've ever stayed since 2006. Why? Because I'm in the honeymoon period.
Coming to the states has opened my eyes to a wide variety of things about life. In Europe, we tend to regard USA as a country with neither history nor culture. American history is short, that's true. The common (mis-) perception on American culture is something I disagree with. The American culture is so diverse. The life of a NYer is so different from that of a TXer that you can even consider them as two different countries. I've enjoyed American country music while some people hate it. For me it is not only the music that fascinates me, it's the life style. Imagine living like a modern cowboy with steel horses, driving a motorbike across the desert from dawn to dusk. How cool isn't that?
Alright, back to the campus. And forgive me being an Americanophile, I'm in the cultural honeymoon after all.
So what is about Cornell that makes it superior to Uppsala? If I'm to expand to the full range of this topic, then you'll probably spend the next few days reading this text. So this time I only go for the campus culture.
US of A is a country where everyone is an immigrant. The first thing that surprised me when registering for the PREPARE orientation week for International students, was the percentage of Asians among the volunteers: it looked like 90%. Having lived as a minority in Scandinavia for too long, I kinda liked what I saw. In comparison, most of Uppsala students are white. If you are from Uppsala you may protest, but if you do so, please take my advice and STFU. When it comes to globalization, UU is way out of the league. Everywhere on campus you can run into Asians, Indians, African-Americans, Caucasians and Latinos. People simply don't talk about the "locals" and "foreigners" the same way you do in EU. Cos in this country, or on campus, nobody is more "local" than anyone. Concepts such as "svenne" versus "blatte" is unheard of.
Cornell promotes cultural diversity. Its faculty strives to adopt cultures from other corners of the world. It could be considered as unfair, since the school may compromise the talent of certain students when endeavoring to gather teenagers from all of the 50 states and beyond. The result is: the elite Cornellians develop a seemingly strong sense of cultural awareness. Like this Afro-American dude I met last week: majoring in engineering and minoring in music, president of piano society, he even asked me which tone my first name is, much to my astonishment. His horde of Chinese friends taught him a few tricks! Back in Von Cramm, or people's commune, the topics on the dining table could be anything from world events to art history. The kids here know their stuff! They are not that ignorant!
When it comes to commodities, US is a lot better than EU. In Collegetown outside the campus, there is a street full of diners. They all serve different kind of food. We have Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Italian and Persian restaurants, Starbuck is close to a tea house where you buy bubble tea of the prime quality. Since bubble tea is Asian, the plastic seal on the cups are written with Chinese. And you can't find it in Sweden. Yesterday I met a guy who lived in England. After a chat over some meal, it turns out that you can't find bubble teas in England either.
Do I hear a protest over there? Am I being to picky on the details? In my opinion, food is always the most important aspect of any culture. To accept another culture you should start by accepting the food. And I'm talking about real Chinese food, not sweet-sour-chicken or "four tiny cuisines"(fyra små rätter). I guess the diplomatic relationship between Sweden and China can enjoy a huge improvement once the Swedes start getting the stuff a down-to-earth Chinese eats. Has Carl Bildt even been to a traditional Chinese banquet?
So far, so good. It's getting late. I'll keep writing tomorrow. Post any comments you want.