World Affairs Colloquium Delves into Cultural Identity
January 1, 2007
On January 15, Trent students and faculty gathered for the first World Affairs Colloquium of 2007, hosted by the Trent International Program and Trent International Students Association.
Entitled “Challenging the Dynamics of Cultural Integration: Identity, Diaspora and Transnationalism”, the colloquium delved into the state of multiculturalism in Canada, and specifically addressed how this manifests itself on Trent campus.
The event featured opening remarks by Canadian Studies Professor Davina Bhandar and five presentations from international students, followed by a facilitated dialogue with the audience. What emerged during the discussions was a fascinating look at “identity confusion” and the concept of “belonging to a nation” experienced by many international students.
According to Prof. Bhandar, it can be challenging for international students to interact with others when they are expected to perform an often stereotypical set of exoticized behaviours associated with their home country. This notion that culture is something that one possesses as a frozen set of characteristics is quite unnatural to the way international students see themselves. “Identity gets collapsed into your national identity – what becomes most interesting to others is that which you had least connection to previously,” explained Prof. Bhandar.
Using excerpts from the popular “I Am Canadian” beer ad campaign, Prof. Bhandar demonstrated how stereotypes are used to define a cultural identity, and in the process suggest national values of equality and liberty are something that “belong” only to Western democratic nations. “It is important that we pay attention to these underlying messages in popular culture so national identities don’t become transfixed,” said Prof. Bhandar.
One of the student presenters, Syed Hussan, provided poignant examples of his cultural interaction with other students and in the local community. He described how he frequently runs into the assumption that because he is an international student, he is expected to represent the student experience from all other countries.
The student presentations led into an engaging discussion about the international student experience at Trent and the kinds of supports that are provided by the University, as well as what improvements are needed. In the end, the level of dialogue generated by this World Affairs Colloquium was a successful exchange of ideas in the spirit of global awareness, representing the best of the Trent educational experience.