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The Multicultural Human and the Multicultural University

The following is an essay by Don Hinkelman, a professor in the Dept. of English and on the staff of International Exchange Center, Sapporo Gakuin University, Japan. Ten Dongguk University students visited Sapporo Gakuin University for seven days in a cultural exchange program between the two universities this past summer. Ten Dongguk University students attended classes and participated in programs at Sapporo Gakuin University (SGU). In November, about ten Sapporo Gakuin students are expected to come to Dongguk University for a reciprocal cultural exchange program.................................................Ed.

When we look back at the Neanderthal man, viewing his big jaw and sloping forehead, it reminds us that human beings have evolved into a new kind of animal over the last hundred thousand years.  What most of us don't realize is that kind of evolution is happening again, but in the flash of decade or two.
The Mono-cultural Human is quickly disappearing, a vanishing species doomed to extinction.  In its place, a rapidly spreading genus of humanity is replacing that primitive thinking animal.  It is the Multi-cultural Human.  A look into the DNA of this new species reveals no visible genetic change, the change is entirely in the level of consciousness and the perspective of globality.   The multi-cultural mind is one that can be Korean, be Chinese, be American, and be Japanese, all at the same time.  Not like a chameleon who hides in the cover of whatever culture is nearby; nor like a stew where all cultures are mixed up and indistinguishable; a multicultural person tries to see all cultures deeply, appreciates the valuable qualities in each, and can switch to an appropriate cultural style when necessary.  Surprisingly, the Multi-cultural Person loves their birth culture more deeply than his or her narrow-minded, mono-cultural neighbors do.  A person who is multicultural is proud of their native ways, but not from knee-jerk defensiveness.  They have learned to love their home country after leaving it, immersing into another culture, and realizing what they treasure about their home values really is.  There is an old saying that a fish never understands what water is, until it jumps out of the water.
Recently, I was witness to the rare opportunity of meeting twelve Multi-cultural Koreans who came into the classroom where I teach in Japan.  My school, Sapporo Gakuin University, hosted these strangers from Dongguk University on June 19-25 in this year 2000, our first exchange of this type.  My students and I noticed how quickly these foreigners became like our brothers and sisters.  Spending eight hours a day on campus and another 16 hours a day in homestay exchange, these young men and women picked up Japanese ways so fast, you could almost imagine they were born here.  I was amazed at their capacity to relate to their Japanese classmates, and use English eagerly to explain Korean ways and answer curious questions from my students.  In this way, we became family.  The people of Dongguk became my family.
I grew up in the age of mono-culturalism.  Everyone in my hometown in the USA was the same.  Others in my generation, such as Professor Youngmin Kim and Professor Seiichi Miyamachi, probably had the same experience.  We heard about other countries in books and watched them on television, yet rarely had direct contact with people from these distant, exotic lands.  In a single week, the Dongguk voyageurs not only experienced Japan, they made scores of friends and family.  That experience made a deep mark on their psyche which I believe is the start of a multi-cultural personality.  Imagine growing up with dear families in different cultures.  Only fifty or so years ago, Japanese, Koreans and Americans were caught up in terrible, bloody wars.  I realize that now, such a war could never happen again. 
The DU / SGU union is an experiment in multi-culturalism.  Two schools from different cultures, and different approaches in education.  Through this exchange, I hope we can discover different ways to become a real university, that is, a learning community of wide-minded souls.  Notice that the root of the word, university, is universe.  At one time it was true that universal thinking came from university training.  Nowadays students and teachers often forget about the universe around them, thinking only of our personal microworlds.  Seeing the inquisitiveness that Prof. Kim and his students brought to Sapporo Gakuin University, I sensed a genuine spirit to learn from Japan and become more universal, more multicultural.   Likewise, during the SGU trip to Dongguk University this coming November, I hope my students eyes will be opened to learn from Korea, finding new ways to study and new ways to live. 
A university that trains its students to learn beyond the borders of its classroom walls is bound to find a vast laboratory in the world, a world full of cultural gems.  This is opposite of the ivy tower paradigm of the university, where high walls prevent change.  I would ask the twelve returning travelers to touch every corner of Dongguk and break down whatever walls are remaining.  The wall-less university is the home of the Multi-cultural Human, and the breeding ground of a new species of universe-minded humanity.

The writer is a professor in the Dept. of English at Sappro Gakuin University, Japan.

Don Hinkelman  serendipity@dongguk.edu

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