Universities in the UK attract a large number of students from all over the world. Consequently, people have been talking a lot about diversity, the benefits and opportunities it might bring. These include the joys of trying out international cuisine and having the chance to learn languages from native speakers. In general many people are interested in finding out more about other cultures.
We can probably all agree that these reasons are great, but isn't there so much more to it than that? As an international student myself, I believe that while we can add many new colours to Britain's student communities, UK students can provide a space, even a sense of home to internationals where they can feel cherished, respected and cared for in a very special way. This, of course, will be different from our home countries but all the more challenging and exciting. I have certainly discovered this at SCM here in Edinburgh.
Now, it is easy to look at the positive aspects of any kind of relationship without having to deal with how messy and complicated things can get on a personal and relational level.
As a Christian, I find it very important to realise that on the most basic level, we are all image-bearers of the same awesome and magnificent God. Understanding that many of our differences are not a question of right or wrong, but the manifestation of the beauty that lies within the complexity of God, can help us see beyond these differences and enjoy the richness of a diverse community.
As soon as we stop feeding into the narrative that demands the other person to think the way we do, something new and potentially life-changing can happen. The moment we stop taking things for granted, engaging and offering friendship to people different from us can have a truly redemptive impact on the way we think and act, as we begin to realise the sweetness of our fellowship.
However, this can only occur if we learn to deal with our discomfort at some ideas and listen to each other rather than to our gut feelings. Now this, I have to admit, is really hard. So many of our views or simply the way we do things can become a central part of our identity. Laying them down is definitely not an easy thing to do; I certainly find it terrifying at times. Sometimes we might even feel horrified at the way other people see things, but listening and engaging does not have to (and shouldn't) mean throwing our brains out of the window. It might not result in changing our views, but we will likely see things in a completely different light.
On the other hand, if we let our fears or indifference prevent us from opening our eyes to new perspectives, we will never experience the real beauty and depth of our humanity. This last sentence might sound a bit like a cliché, but I honestly believe that through these relationships Jesus invites us into the messy reality of what it means to show grace and kindness to all. Not to mention that we meet new friends along the way.
So let us not be afraid. Let us come alongside each other instead and bear with one another in love.
Let me close with some words I have found really helpful from The Prayer of St Francis.
"O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen."
Written by Ben Hodozsó, who studies Mathematics and Music at The University of Edinburgh. Ben is originally from Hungary and is part of SCM Edinburgh.