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The Value of Studying in a Multicultural Environment

If 21st-century higher education has a buzzword, then it's probably diversity. Universities all over the world are pushing for more diverse student bodies and faculties, creating programs to encourage more people from underrepresented groups to enter into higher learning. But what does it really mean to be diverse or multicultural and how do such environments benefit students and wider society?

Sep 6, 2023
  • Education
The Value of Studying in a Multicultural Environment

Defining Diversity and Multiculturalism

Diversity is one of the most important issues of modern times, dominating political and cultural discourse as we seek to create ever more inclusive societies in an increasingly connected world. But what do we mean when we talk about diversity?

What is diversity?

Firstly, it’s essential to point out that the idea goes way beyond broad categories like race or gender. It can also include religious or cultural beliefs, age, socio-economic factors, sexual orientation, educational background and disabilities, among other things. From this more nuanced perspective, diversity is about identifying areas of potential prejudice or discrimination and then creating more inclusive environments in which all individuals within each sub-group have an equal opportunity to succeed. This can mean wheelchair accessibility, prayer rooms, or government-sponsored programs to get more children from underprivileged backgrounds into top universities.

What is multiculturalism?

Another important idea is multiculturalism. The term is often used interchangeably with diversity; however, there are some subtle differences between the two concepts. Multiculturalism focuses more on culture. As such, it's concerned with how different groups (rather than individuals) can express and value their own cultural beliefs and practices without impacting or undermining those of another group. Ideally, a multicultural society is one in which different ethnic or religious groups coexist side by side, and where no one culture seeks to dominate public discourse or even define political policy. Multiculturalism may describe a mixed ethnic community where multiple cultures live side by side such as in New York City.

Benefits of Belonging to a Diverse Multicultural Community

Diversity and multiculturalism provide a wide range of benefits for college students and higher learning institutes. Universities were founded upon the exchange of ideas, and what better way to do this than by creating a diverse environment which values and promotes dialogue between a variety of cultures? Education is a fundamentally collaborative field, and the best ideas are those that have been stress-tested against all other possible counterpoints. A diverse student body and faculty inevitably engender broader and more rigorous discussions, which, in the end, leads to better and stronger ideas.

The benefit of international students

In a study published by the Journal of International Students, graduates reported interactions with international students helped them develop new skills, such as learning a second language, which in turn enabled them to broaden their cognitive abilities. The survey showed how students who study at diverse colleges have “the ability to question their beliefs and values; acquire new skills and knowledge independently; formulate creative ideas; integrate ideas and information; achieve quantitative abilities; understand the role of science and technology in society; and gain in-depth knowledge in a specific field.” Moreover, encouraging diversity on campus has real-world advantages that stretch way beyond the lecture hall. Diversity and multiculturalism foster better working relationships, more opportunities, as well as emotional skills like understanding, empathy, and compassion. Today's students are tomorrow’s business leaders, politicians, and health care providers.

Diversity and business

Business schools are an excellent example of the benefits of multicultural learning. Recent studies by Forbes and McKinsey found a direct correlation between diverse classrooms, increased innovation, and more substantial profits. Diverse business schools are also preparing students to succeed in international commerce. Graduates from multicultural schools are more likely to have a network of international contacts, helping them stand out to employers. And with ever more global markets, the lowering of trade barriers, and the rise of countries like China, India, and African economies, companies are looking further afield for opportunities to expand. This means they require an internationally aware workforce familiar with the customs, languages, and business practices of other cultures. Such skills will be vital in starting new businesses and creating long and productive working relationships.

Ashley Murphy

Author

After graduating with a degree in English literature and creative writing, Ashley worked as a bartender, insurance broker, and teacher. He became a full-time freelance writer in 2016. He lives and writes in Manchester, England.

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