onValues: A Real Exercise in Diversity

I’ve been on a Scandinavian music kick lately.  Not the ABBA/Roxette wave of the 80s, but more recent bands, like Jonsi or Veronica Maggio—poppy, top 40 hits from Northern Europe as well as more indie-cred artists.  I like the un-ironic umlauts over the vowels.  I like the combination of English and Swedish/Icelandic/Norwegian that peppers the lyrics.  And regardless of whether I actually understand the language, the songs are still catchy as hell.  In the same way that a lot of my friends have loads of K-pop and J-pop on their iPods, one friend and I are collecting the popular music stylings of a more pale-blonde inclination.

scandinavian stylings

I wouldn’t classify my core friend group as “diverse” in that statistical way that colleges like to quantify.  We’re all American citizens, all but one from East Coast suburbs, Anglophiles with soft spots for Paris or Rome, Diet Coke addicts, and inexplicably almost all English majors (I promise I didn’t plan that one).  We have our fair share of personal drama and “real world” problems, but on paper, we’re culturally monotonous.  It’s only in the things that we do and consume that cause us to become “diverse.”

“Diversity” has become some quantifiable commodity in college, where the statistics of so many different races and social classes and sexual orientations have some high number to hit in the demographics.  Which is, of course, nice, but it doesn’t quite tell the story of these people’s cultural interest differences.  Especially in a city like New York, where authentic recreations of different cultures are condensed and immediately available, the statistical “diversity” can be overshadowed by the culture that the students want to embrace.  For example, I count as several minorities in the eyes of my univeristy, but realtalk: I could just as well have been a suburban daughter of the vast whitewashed-collar South.  I wouldn’t count myself diverse if we’re talking about my origins.  I’d count myself diverse only in my current experiences.

I’ve lived in London and Shanghai.  I’ve visited Edinburgh, Paris, and Amsterdam.  I’ve seen both coasts of continental America.  I’ve hand-made croissants, climbed up a waterfall, read Hemingway at his café, haggled for pirated DVDs in Chinese black markets, trespassed multiple times to get good views of a city, bummed at a beach house for a week, taken a power shower on a fire escape.

It’s important to keep in touch with your roots.  I won’t deny that.  There’s a host of literature (and literary analysis) on the personal destruction that ensues when protagonists attempt to erase their origins.  But there’s also something to be said for personal exploration once we’ve reconciled ourselves with our past.  There’s no point in being diverse if you’re just going to be the same diverse your entire life.  That’s a huge disservice to all the people who do come from obscure backgrounds.  They have to carry that culture on their own.  There are no questionnaires on our diverse experiences once we get into college, which is really what should be encouraged.  It’s nice that there’s been such an effort to surround me with different people, but that’s no true incentive.  More direct exposure, more real opportunities to study abroad, less insular summer programs.  Less expensive cultural experiences.

I’ve never taken a Scandinavian class.  Historically, I’ve been a Western European kind of lady.  But I’m super into this music coming from a lot of Swedish artists (Miike Snow and The Knife are also Swedish.  True facts), I’ve begun writing some fiction with German characters, and there’s a $1.50 student special on Brazilian coffee at the O Cafe (Brazilian coffee ≠ Colombian coffee ≠ New Zealand coffee. Try them all!)… so…

Adjö, ses nästa vecka.

Robin (Princeton University)

I tweet while I’m at work.  I’ve yet to master the hashtag.
My blog, where I post all my European interests and more.

Photo from flickr, creative commons license.

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