I remember growing up in a small city in the south of the Netherlands. Despite the international reputation of the Netherlands being open, diverse and a melting pot of cultures, my growing up was very much defined by white, Caucasian and countryside culture. Any other cultural aspects of life would come via the TV set with either Dutch programmes or majority soaps from the US or UK. All in all, you can hardly call this cultural diversity.
It started to change when at 18 I went to university, although even that remained very much in the same setting but clearly diversity of thought started to be formed and the background of fellow students was very different from when I grew up. I was in the end the 1st in my family to go to university.
The real significant step towards more cultural diversity came when one day a friend asked me to join for an introduction to AIESEC, a student organisation that was brokering traineeships abroad. By the end of the afternoon I had signed up and a week later filled out all the forms. Suddenly the realisation that I would go for 6 months to live in a country that would be English or German speaking; these were the language I had been exposed to in my study, I would definitely not say that I mastered them. What would this bring me, how would I adjust myself, my life that concentrated around family, sports and study would be turned upside down.
Then the letter came (yes sorry no emails yet in those times) that I was matched to a traineeship in Freiburg in Germany. So, I better upgrade my language skills to survive.
Many years later I know that this change in my life opened a door to me to be exposed to a multi-cultural diversity that I cherish today. I spent the 6 months traineeship in Germany, learned to speak the language fluently (drop me in the sea and I will swim), I got to know many new people that remain friends till today. I however also discovered the love of travelling and meeting new people, speak to them, getting to know new countries and their cultures and most importantly understanding cultural diversity and the beauty of it.
I am very fortunate having built up friendships with literally people from all over the world. We might not see each other every year but luckily social media enables us to stay “in touch” and see what we are all up to. It all culminated in my big wedding day with friends from over 20 countries being present.
Equally important it has given me great skills in my professional environment, listen to others, understanding their cultural diversity, tapping into it and making it an extra value in the solution we create for our client.
Without having stepped out of my comfort zone in my early 20’s and embracing the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, has, I like to believe, made me the person I am and has enriched my life with the cultural diversity I enjoy every day.
Almost needless to say, the moral of this story is to go out there and discover the beauty of cultural diversity than can be as well just around you (especially in London) or in the many corners of this world.