It is only natural that we gravitate towards people who share with us the same ethnicity, culture, or other highly immutable traits. This instinctive attraction is probably a relic of our evolutionary past, and is reflective of a time when such behavior was conducive to our survival. We rarely recognize this tendency while living in a homogeneous environment like our own country, but it becomes much too evident when we are thrown into an environment as foreign and diverse as business school.
I noticed it as early as the first five minutes of the first class, when students introduced themselves and their countries to their future classmates. The top row of my classroom was filled with a long, uninterrupted line of students, all visiting from Eurasia*. While some saw an arc of friendly Eurasians bonding, I saw an omen of more cliques to come.
As any self-respecting passive-aggressive person would do, my first course of action was to stage a silent act of defiance. Next day, I came early to class and broke that perfect arc by sitting right in the middle of it. After a few awkward and questioning stares from my neighbors, instead of being ostracized as an ‘anti arc-ist’, I quickly made two new friends. From then on I always attempted to sit next to, and meet with, people who do not look like me and whose names are hard to pronounce.
As the first academic year comes to a close, ethno-cultural cliques and admission-only ones, such as ‘Regents Hyde Park’-Select, continue to prosper. Every day, Facebook is abundant with photos of this Oceania-only outing or that Eastasia-oriented after-after-party. And that resilient row of Eurasian students, always sitting together like a Band of Brothers, shows no sign of weakening.
I am told that some have tried to ‘integrate’ with different groups but failed and eventually reverted to the comfort of their own cliques. For instance, there is a perception that many Oceanian students, who possess the home advantage, put no effort in relating to Eastasians and Eurasians, who generally exhibit a lack of appreciation for Oceanian football. By now, the majority has already settled into their own cliques, and very few are trying hard enough to accommodate others.
Most of us have sacrificed much, both financially and otherwise, to go through this very expensive ‘life-changing experience’. How do we expect to change our lives and widen our perspectives if every day we continue to speak the same language, do the same things, study in the same groups, and socialize with the same people? There is enough time to change course; we are only half way through the journey.
* Eurasia, Eastasia, and Oceania are fictional superstates from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Any resemblance to real countries or regions is purely coincidental.