By Sebastian Preuss and Kiersten Meehan
As a student in Maastricht, one is often likely to run into a few foreigners every once in a while. In fact, with more than one third of the student body being non-Dutch citizens, it should be considered largely expected. With that being said, it comes as no surprise that Maastricht University has been ranked by Times Higher Education as the #15th most international university worldwide. While the majority of us arise from neighboring countries, Germany being an obvious frontrunner, there is still a remarkable mix of nationalities not only from more distant parts of Europe but different continents as well. American, British, Canadian, Danish, Estonian, French, Chinese, Greek, Moroccan, Hungarian, Italian… and the list goes on.
We speak English, with all kinds of accents, and most of us know at least one or two other languages on top of that. By the time we have reached our twenties, many of us have visited more countries and had more profoundly authentic cultural experiences than our grandparents did their whole lives. Globalization does more than simply influence our generation. It defines us. Have you ever caught yourself complaining that the Thai place around the corner is totally not as good as the one you went to in Bangkok last year? And how often do you come close to throwing your iPhone 6 because its high speed 4G cut out for a split second while you were chatting with your friend in Brazil. Eating with chopsticks has become an almost crucial skill, and keeping in touch with people all over the world is easier than ever. We celebrate our diversity, while racism and xenophobia seem to be as dead as the VHS, relicts from a different millennium.
What is most striking, however, is that despite our world’s flourishing diversification and the persistent merging of cultures, we still cling to ancient stereotypes, both good and bad. The French complain about Belgian’s inherently terrible driving skills. Germans are assumed to live on beer and sausage, and even the Dutch view the locals from Limburg with suspicion, which is apparently due to the accent. And with all this being said, we claim to be international and all-embracing. We are a community who pride themselves on not treating others differently based on his or her home country. No one in this cosmopolitan Maastricht mix is to be considered better or worse just because of our differences. But how different are we really?
Europe is famous for the incredible number of nationalities and cultures relative to its comparatively small size. The differences embedded in our heritage and background make us special and there is certainly nothing wrong with maintaining our unique attributes, as long as it won’t get in the way of understanding others.
Perhaps we might find something valuable in looking at those non-European internationals around – the Asians, Americans or Australians. From their perspective, Europe is small, united, and integrated, just like their homelands.
By thinking in terms of “us” and “them”, we will never reach the level of mutual understanding and cooperation our forefathers, the founders of the European Union, had in mind. Lets embrace our cultural diversity, as something we can share, not as something we need to protect at any cost. Who knows, it might turn out we have more in common than we think.