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The Real World: IEW, Learning cultural tolerance one meaningful event at a time

Heights Staff Columnist

Published: Sunday, November 6, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

Noted Catholic writer and philosopher G.K. Chesterton once said, "Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions." For a long time I tended to agree with him. Tolerance carried to the extreme would permit anything and create an unstable and dangerous society. Each person, each community, and each nation must have laws to regulate personal ethical decisions that could affect the lives of others. For example, our country is extremely intolerant of drunk drivers. I have no problem with that. In fact, I'm pretty happy with our nation's intolerance in this regard.

But in other contexts, tolerance is one of the most necessary virtues for our world today. As people from all over the world are able to connect more easily both virtually and physically, cultures and societies appear in sharp contrast to each other. It's safe to say we are faced with the unfamiliar more often today than at any other time in human history. Open-mindedness to the way others live, act, and believe is now of the utmost importance. To be able to accept the customs of others without judgment is a key ideal to strive for on our rapidly globalizing planet.

But this is not to say that we ought to abandon our own way of life in favor of creating some insipid amalgam of "world civilization." It is impossible and inane to try to accept the traditions of other societies if you don't have your own dish to bring to the cultural potluck that is our modern times. Not knowing where your roots lie is a travesty. At the same time, we needn't be defined by only one identity. Maybe your background has been fashioned from a wide range of traditions. Bring all those plates with you and make the feast richer for everyone. The place(s) you come from and the way(s) you do things can only be illuminated by experiencing other cultures. It helps you to better understand your own heritage and see the conscious and unexpressed values of your own society.

Unfortunately, this free mingling of cultures isn't always the case at Boston College. While we do have a fairly diverse student population, these diverse groups don't seem to interact very much with each other. Only in a few clubs and organizations can you sense the true multifaceted nature of the BC community.

Enter International Education Week (IEW). A joint initiative from the Department of Education and the Department of State, IEW is a great way to smash the walls that separate students from different backgrounds. Its main goal is to raise awareness of all the international education efforts that are going on here at BC.

"International education is usually isolated by department or school," says Adrienne Nussbaum, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, which is the coordinating office for the week. "There is so much going on. Now, in one week of collaboration students will get a chance to see everything that's happening. We're really hoping to pull in students who aren't already involved in international groups to get them caring about global issues. Hopefully from attending some of the programs during the week they will be inspired to get involved, study abroad, or travel more to other countries."

International Education Week is being put on by the broadest group of cosponsors ever; not only student clubs, but also academic departments and offices have been planning since August to host events, including the Office of International Students and Scholars, the Office of International Programs, the International Studies Program, the Center for International Higher Education, the Center for Human Rights and International Justice, the Irish Institute, Residential Life, the International Club of BC, the Graduate International Students' Association, GSSW International Programs, BC Libraries, BC Dining Services, BC Bookstores, and multiple other intercultural clubs. All the events are free and some even offer free food. Anyone can attend any event. Even for those who aren't planning on living or having a career abroad, it's supremely important in our interconnected world to understand the peoples and cultures that make up our world, whether you're planning on being a doctor or a day laborer.

Although there are over 35 events taking place, a few that caught my eye were a lecture on the "Arab Spring," a talk by international Jesuits about Jesuits around the world, students from Singapore talking about education in their home country, speakers from Amnesty Int. and the United Nations Council, and Karl Hobart from Axis of Hope. Throughout the week student photos taken all over the world will be displayed in O'Neill and the Chocolate Bar. One event at which I will have no trouble learning tolerance of other cultures will be international dining night at all of the BC dining facilities. It won't take much prodding for me to tolerate some baklava.

When is this incredible week-long shindig going to take place? Mark your calendars for Nov. 14-18 and get ready to take a trip around the globe without leaving Chestnut Hill. For more information, including a complete schedule of events, check out and get ready to open yourself to a world of possibilities.


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