Culture has always been a big part of my life. As a youngster, my parents raised me to learn the importance of the Greek from which my family originated. In turn, I learned about other peoples’ cultures, too.
I wasn’t always surrounded by a sea of vibrant cultures and foreign languages, however. I lived a large portion of my early childhood in the rural suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky: the land of horses, bluegrass, and baseball bats. While it was a fine upbringing, I didn’t experience much cultural diversity other than familial Greek customs. I wouldn’t be exposed to the beauty that other cultures had to offer until I was at the ripe age of 7, when my Dad got relocated to Atlanta, Georgia for his job at UPS.
I didn’t expect much from moving to Georgia. In my head, it was just another city down south, akin to Kentucky in terms of diversity. One 6-hour car ride later, we were living in a town on the outskirts of Atlanta called Johns Creek, affectionately called “Johns Korea”. My family had moved to a massive cultural hub where there were people of all nations everywhere around me. Down the street, there was a massive Asian market (H-Mart). Russian and Persian groceries were also present, and there were plenty of middle-eastern bakeries and restaurants.
After school, especially in my younger days, I would often hang out at a friend’s house for a few hours before dinner. Many of my friends were Indian, Korean, Chinese, Scandinavian, Italian, Pakistani, or Iranian, and their cultures were vastly different than what I had been previously used to. Within their homes were sometimes entire rooms devoted to religious ornaments or other cultural amenities I had never seen before. It was a wonderland. I would walk through friends’ houses looking at all the unfamiliar statues, ornaments, pictures, and furniture, while wonderful wafts and scents floated from the kitchen, which eventually turned out to be an awesome snack.
I continued living like this, saturated by massive amounts of diverse cultures surrounding me. This saturation followed me through high school, but everything changed a bit after I graduated and went to college. Don’t get me wrong, UGA has a pretty wide degree of diversity, but it wasn’t what I was used to back home.
That craving followed me around until sophomore year, when I was in the market to join an organization and actually do something with myself. My friend Nisha (shout out!) almost immediately blurted out, “Hey, join AIESEC!” I had heard plenty about it from her, and it seemed like a good enough cause to be a part of, but I still wasn’t entirely sure, at least not until I met the people involved.
After I joined, I remember being at the first Local Committee Meeting, walking in and seeing all the members talking and laughing with each other. I can honestly say that I felt entirely at home at that moment. There were more cultures around me than I knew what to do with, and I couldn’t wait to soak it all in, and learn so much more. AIESEC provided a home for me, as well as some cultural respite that I desperately needed.
We all might be from entirely different backgrounds, and have our contrasts between each other, but I absolutely call these people my family.
Not only are they there for me through thick and thin, but through them, and all the other AIESECers I’ve met through them (believe me, there are a lot), they continue to give me the remainder of the cultural upbringing that I need, satisfying my hunger for knowledge about the many people of the world, and their ways of life.